Monday, March 31, 2008

77 | by Pat

It has now been 77 years to the day that Knute Rockne's plane went down in a Kansas field. What makes this year different than the previous 76 is that Easter Heathman, one of the first on the scene back in 1931, is no longer with us to guide visitors to the crash site Memorial and share his memories of that fateful day. Rest in peace, Knute and Easter.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Icers make the Frozen Four | by Pat

A hearty congratulations to the Irish Hockey team for making the first Frozen Four in school history with last night's 3-1 win over defending national champion Michigan State. After a surprising 7-3 pasting of #1 seed New Hampshire, the Irish avenged last year's season-ending loss to the Spartans and have punched their ticket for an April 10th Frozen Four match with the Michigan Wolverines in Denver, Colorado.'s Tournament Central has all the info on the upcoming national semifinal as well as an Irish tournament recap.

This is a fantastic accomplishment for Coach Jackson and his squad. A special congrats to senior captain Mark Van Guilder who was named Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional and scored the go-ahead goal against MSU.

ESPN has the highlights for those who weren't able to catch last night's game.

Congrats again to the Fighting Irish Icers.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Year Four | by Pat

Plenty of fun stuff to wade through today. Most of the goodies can be found at, including the full transcript of Charlie's presser, the first Jack Nolan hosted practice recap of the season, and assistant coach and defensive player interviews.

Now then, on to a few noteworthy quotes from Charlie at the start of spring practice.

On the major objective for the spring: "Objectives going into the spring. The obvious objective that everyone could see is we need to improve fundamentally and technically across the board. There's one position that's exempt from that which is, you know, once again, not to be redundant but just stating the obvious. Other issues that are of equal importance to us. We felt the team didn't have much confidence as we went through last year for a number of reasons, but we're working on confidence is one of the goals of this spring, confidence/swagger."

On moving Sam Young back to right tackle: "The other thing with Sam, for over a year now we have dealt with a right wrist problem from his freshman year, and that's the main reason why we moved him last year from the right side to the left side it he couldn't block. He couldn't punch anyone with his right hand coming off the edge on the right side. So therefore, we had to move him over to the left side. Well, now, that wrist is recovered which will answer one of your questions, which is why you see Sam Young over right tackles because he's got his right wrist back and that's where we project him to be."

On Matt Romine pushing Paul Duncan at left tackle: "He'd better push him. Right now, Paul is definitely first. Matt, you know, Matt went back and forth and he was banged up some last year, missed a lot of time, missed a lot of time but his weight has gone from I didn't mention him, but his weight's gone from like 272 to 290.

So he's put himself you'll look at his upper body when you see Matt out there. But I'm counting on Matt Romine and I'm counting on Taylor Dever and I'm counting on Andrew (Nuss), those three freshmen from last year, I am counting on all three of those guys in this spring to not act like freshmen."

On physical practices: "We've always had physical practices. We just didn't spend as much time taking them to the ground, and I think we will have to spend more time taking them for the ground and that isn't just for the defense, it's for offense, too."

On off-season weight training: "A couple of people in the off season, it was very important that we got some weight gain and strength without succumbing to having additional body fat. For example, Jimmy (Clausen), last year, started off at 194 and he's walking in at 212 for the first day of training camp. That is obviously a significant gain. His body fat is status quo but has a lot more lean muscle. That's pretty much the same I'll give you Dan Wenger last year started at 282 and he's at 300 now. Sam Young started at 309, dropped to 287 by the end of the year and he's at 330 right now."

On having younger players as team leaders: "You know, we've done some analysis from the psychological standpoint on that very thing, and we're not going to be opposed to young guys being leaders, but they are going to have to win the players over. It isn't going to have to be winning us over."

On visiting Frank Beamer about special teams: "The first thing I want to find out is how do you block so many kicks, because they make game changing plays, I can't tell you how many even over the years, they make game changing plays to win football games. And they have been involved in a close football game over the years, almost always they end up winning because of a special teams play. So he must be a heck of a lot smarter than me, so I'm going to go tap into that brain of his and find out if I can get a couple answers."

On Toryan Smith and the open middle linebacker spot: "This is Toryan's time right now. Right now based on where we are in the off season, he's No. 1. He's had opportunities to get on the field before and we have not got a lot of production out of him, so this is his time. This is his time to step up. You know, if he's got some guys behind him that we're encouraged with and we've got reinforcements coming here in the summertime, so this is his time to make a name for himself."

On which positions concern him: "When you're talking about offense or defense, I think the two biggest areas as a group that you have to be concerned with are your offensive line and defensive secondary. I feel pretty good about our defensive secondary, and I think that probably one of the greatest areas, I wouldn't say concern, I would say more interest, is the progression that we are going to have to make on our offensive line. No one is satisfied with how we played last year at the offensive line position, but I'm going to be really interested to see how quickly we progress.

One of the big deals is not only do we have so many guys that seem to be very motivated to prove the naysayers wrong, but there's also a lot more competition than we have ever had there before. We have never been able to line up too deep and with guys that are actually contenders for the starters, and I think that that's any time you have competition at a position, okay, that bodes well, because usually the first guy plays a heck of a lot better when he realizes there's a second guy that's right there to take their spot."

On practice plans for the offensive line: "Well, we are going to spend, first of all, the offensive line, one of the areas that we've identified is we are going to spend a lot more time with them away from the group emphasizing fundamentals and techniques that we felt that needed one of the greatest areas of improvement, and you can't really improve unless you allocate the time. So that's one of the things we are going to do. But as far as working them as a group, the one biggest plus you have, you are say whatever you want but you lose one player in Sully and everyone else now is a year more experienced than where they are last year and more than any position on offense, the position where experience counts the most for quarterback."

A few quick notes and thoughts.

• For those who want the quickie summary of yesterday, here's the espn take on the first day of spring camp.

• The official "pre-spring" roster is up on now. There have been a few interesting position switches. As noted above, Sam Young is back to right tackle with Paul Duncan starting at left tackle. Another interesting switch is a defensive flip-flop with Kallen Wade moving to outside linebacker while John Ryan and Mo Richarson move to defensive end. Luke Schmidt will be working out with the tight ends this spring and may or may not stick there for the fall.

• If you can trust the roster weights, Clausen and the OL definitely did some bulking up this winter. The entire line, save Matt Romine, is over 300 pounds. On the other hand, the linebackers for the most part lost a little bit of weight, presumably at the behest of Coaches Brown and Tentua.

• There are a few bumps and bruises to cover. The only scholarship player to already be declared out for the spring is John Ryan. Right after the season he had surgery for a torn labrum (shoulder injury) and hernia. For those wondering why he wasn't all that effective last year, I'd say those two injuries played a part. Robby Parris is also coming off a hernia but is expected to participate. Turkovich is coming back from an appendecotm and Ian Williams is recovering from an ankle infection so both of them might miss a bit of time here and there.

• Charlie said that since Evan Sharpley, Golden Tate, and Eric Maust are currently contributing members of the baseball team, they will be missing a few football practices. Sharpley leads the team in home runs and was recently named Big East Player of the Week. Tate is second on the team in stolen bases and is a frequently used outfielder. Maust has had a run of strong innings off the mound and was named to the weekly Big East Honor roll.

• A familiar name is back on campus as Kinnon Tatum has been hired as an intern in the football office. Tatum was an inside linebacker under Holtz and Davie and returns to South Bend after spending a few years coaching high school football. You may remember Tatum from such films as "Goalline Stands and You: An Instructional Video"

• Charlie said he would name team captains by the end of the spring, but has already announced the Honorary Coaches for Blue-Gold game. You can read the full press release here, but the short version is that ND is going with a decade theme this year and will feature six former players from six different decades.
50's - Jim Morse
60's - Terry Hanratty
70's - Terry Eurick
80's - Allen Pinkett
90's - Bryant Young
00's - Ryan Grant
Not too shabby. It will be great to see Bryant Young back on the field after his recent retirement from his Hall of Fame worthy NFL career. According to Charlie, Justin Tuck was asked to come too, but had to decline as he's getting married.

• Coach Weis is heading overseas this spring to visit the troops in the Middle East. Charlie, along with Coach Richt form Georgia, Coach Shannon from Miami, Coach Siedlecki from Yale, and Coach Tuberville from Auburn will visit military bases overseas from May 22-26th. More information can be found on

• When asked where his focus will be this spring, Charlie said he will make sure to spend time with all different parts of the team and sitting in on a changing rotation of positional meetings. For those curious, on the first day of practice you can see him on the online practice videos right in front of the offensive line as they go through footwork drills.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Reboot | by Pat

123 days. That's how long it has been since the last Notre Dame football practice. Today marks the end of our journey through the off-season wilderness and a welcome first step to putting the putrid 2007 season behind us all.

The problem is, the stain of a 3-9 season isn't going to go away overnight. It's going to take plenty of elbow grease and some serious scrubbing. With that in mind, it's going to be tough to get too excited over the various practice reports I know are going to come our way starting today. Don't get me wrong, it's still going to be a fun spring. There are plenty of talented young players and enough open starting spots for some interesting spring position battles. It's just that after a season like the one we just experienced, it's going to be natural to assume that not all is as good as it appears. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, right?

So where does that leave us? Personally, I'm just going to try to sit back and enjoy the fact there is finally some ND football to talk about. It's fun to be just a fan and not get too consumed by either thoughts of worst case scenarios or rationalizations why things are looking up. Sure, I'll probably get swept up at times by sunny practice reports as I'm a hopeless optimist, but I'll try to keep that grain of salt handy.

Now, speaking of talking ND football, let's partake in a little bit of BGS tradition and take a look at five major questions heading into spring ball. What's your take?

1. It all starts up front, right? What about that offensive line?

If the team is going to make a drastic improvement next season, then the offensive line is going to have to lead the way. For that reason, the OL is going to be a whole lot of attention and scrutiny this spring. Four of the five starters are back, but the situation along the line is anything but solid. The line played poorly enough last year that no one's job should be safe. The good news is that ND finally has enough depth along the line to generate legitimate competition for some of the five starting jobs.

Sam Young is still a shoo-in to start along the line somewhere, but it remains to be seen if he'll stick at left tackle or go back to right tackle. The only other sure bet to start is Dan Wenger at center. Returning starters Mike Turkovich, Paul Duncan, and Eric Olsen have a big leg up on the backups thanks to their game experience, but players like Matt Romine, Chris Stewart, Taylor Dever, and even early enrollee Trevor Robinson should push for playing time.

I would expect the returning starters will get first crack at running with the ones this spring, but we should see a fair amount of mixing and matching. Will it be enough to erase last year's sad performance? We won't know that until the fall. This spring though will set the tone and hopefully we'll see signs here and there that this particular unit is shaping up into something dependable.

2. How about our suddenly thin and inexperienced defensive line?

No position has as many questions marks and as shallow a depth as defensive line. In addition to losing star Trevor Laws and Dwight Stephenson, Jr. to graduation, starting nose tackle Pat Kuntz is not enrolled in the University this spring and backup lineman Derrell Hand's football career is over due to injury. That leaves six scholarship defensive linemen for the spring. So who's left? Freshman Ian Williams did an admirable job filling in for Kuntz over the final two games of the season and should only improve as the starting nose tackle. 5th year Justin Brown will likely replace Stephenson at one defensive end spot as they more or less split time there last year.

That leaves one open DE spot and the names contending to start there aren't ones familiar to the casual ND fan. Paddy Mullen, Kallen Wade, Emeka Nwankwo, and Sean Cwynar have a combined 10 minutes of collegiate playing time. Who will rise to the top is anyone's guess. Emeka Nwankwo has been mentioned as a player who was impressive at times while playing on the scout team last fall, but it's a big step up from scout team to starting lineup. Mullen and Wade have been in the program the longest making them the veteran choices. Cwynar has just shown up on campus as an early enrollee so it might be tough for him to beat out the trio of older players. In all likelihood Pat Kuntz will take over the starting DE spot should he return to campus in the fall. But in the interim someone has to start during practice and the field is wide open.

3. Is there any hope in sight for our special teams?

As far as I can tell, there are two sure things about special teams this fall. Eric Maust will be the starting punter and David Bruton and Mike Anello will be the gunners when Maust punts. Other than that, the poor results from last year should result in plenty of open auditions and player competition. The big job to be won is kicker. Freshman Brandon Walker took over the job last year, but will need to straighten out his kicks if he wants to keep the job. He has the leg for it -- he made a 48 yarder against UCLA last year -- but needs to improve his accuracy in a hurry -- he missed his 7 other attempts from 30+ yards. Ryan Burkhart and Nate Whitaker will challenge Walker, but, like Walker, both need to improve their accuracy and consistency if they want to make a serious run at the starting job.

Speaking of kicking, it would be ideal if one of the three kickers could start to get kickoffs even close to being a touchback this spring. Last year ND failed to register a single touchback on kickoffs. Granted the anemic offense meant fewer kickoff chances than normal, but the Irish were still one of a small handful of teams that couldn't put a single kickoff into the endzone.

Another big special teams question mark is which player will replace long time punt returner Tom Zbikowski. George West returned a few in 2006 so he might get another look. Other than him, it could be anyone with some likely candidates being younger players like Darrin Walls, Barry Gallup, or Golden Tate.

Take also likely will get another shot at running back kicks along with classmate Armando Allen, but neither had much of an impact last year. Of course, issues with blocking had plenty to do with that. With plenty of young and fast players, there at least should be a decent pool of blocking candidates from which to pick.

Last but not least, someone will need to replace long snapper J.J. Jansen. It's not a glamorous job or even a position battle that will warrant much media coverage...until snaps start flying over Maust's head.

4. How will the coaching shuffle play out?

Despite only officially changing one assistant coach, there actually has been a fair amount of re-shuffling among the coaching staff since we last saw the Fighting Irish take the field. How will that work this spring? Charlie Weis has sworn he will be more of a head coach this year than offensive coordinator. With no four-way QB race this spring, he shouldn't be too tempted to spend his time focusing on one small part of the team. Coach Haywood on the other hand will have a busy spring not only getting the running back corp ready to go but also working on his new role as primary offensive play caller. The linebackers and defensive backs will have to adjust to new coaches as Coach Tenuta takes over the 'backers while Corwin Brown fills in for the recently retired Bill Lewis as coach of the secondary. Coach Polian has dropped the inside linebacker coaching title and now will focus on special teams 100% of the time, along with his "assistant" Coach Weis. Finally, Coach Powlus will likely take a more pronounced role in the development of the Irish quarterbacks.

The changes aren't major ones for the staff and likely shouldn't be too much of a big deal, but it is still a noticeable change and everyone will have to adjust quickly to their new roles, especially Coach Weis.

5. Who will have a breakout spring?

The perennial question that our inner optimist loves to ponder. More than any type of serious projection, this is just a fun question where we all get to throw out names of players we hope make that leap from backup to starter or starter to star.

The team is full of young, talented players so the list this year is full of possibilities. It could be one of the few freshmen who didn't play last year but have plenty of buzz like cornerback Gary Gray. Or maybe one of their classmates who have already started to make a name for themselves like receiver Duval Kamara, running back Robert Hughes, or linebacker Brian Smith. What about older players like Toryan Smith and Scott Smith who will be battling it out for a recently vacated starting inside linebacker spot or those darkhorse candidates like fullback/tight end? Luke Schmidt, linebacker Steve Quinn, or wide receiver Richard Jackson? How about one of the five players -- Harrison Smith, Ray Herring, Sergio Brown, Jashaad Gaines, Kyle McCarthy -- contending to take over Zibby's strong safety spot? And what about that Jimmy Clausen guy?

We wouldn't really know who the next Irish star is going to be until they finally get out there and play. Luckily for us, that day is today.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Start spreading the news | by Pat

You may notice a new collection of links on the right hand sidebar today. As we roll into spring ball, we're experimenting with a way to keep BGS readers entertained and informed.

For those of you familiar with RSS feeds, we are now sharing selected links from the BGS Google Reader for your perusal under the BGS's Shared Items section. For those of you who have no idea what I just wrote, it boils down to us sharing things we find interesting from other blogs, newspapers, or other sites with you. As we come across posts or articles that we think might be of interest to BGS readers, the list on the right will automatically update with those latest links. The list will be kept to the five most recent shared links, although you can scan through our archive of shared links here. If you're already reading BGS via a feed reader and don't regularly visit the site, here is an RSS feed of our shared items so you can include it in your reader.

Ideally we'll link to articles detailing spring practices notes from future opponents, interesting posts on other Irish blogs, various ND-related updates that pop up, or anything else of note we feel like sharing. Half of the 2008 Irish opponents kick off spring practice this week so that alone should be a source of updates and news about the teams that ND will face in the fall.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Skywriting: Getting Ready for Football Edition | by Pat

Spring ball starts in just a few days. So before we can finally move on to honest to goodness real football information, let's flush the pipeline of some miscellaneous Irish info from the past few weeks.

HOF. Lou Holtz has a chance to join five other Notre Dame coaches as he has been officially nominated for the College Football Hall of Fame.

Former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz and former Northwestern player and present Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald are among the 75 players and eight coaches on the 2008 Football Bowl Subdivision ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame.
The ballots have already been mailed out to National Football Foundation members who will vote 2 coaches and 11 players. Those who garner the most votes and make up the newest class of Hall of Famers will be announced on May 1st. Here is the capsule for Holtz included on the ballot form.
Lou Holtz- William & Mary (1969-71), NC State (1972-75), Arkansas (1977-83), Minnesota (1984-85), Notre Dame (1986-96), South Carolina (1999-2004) -Ranked eighth among all-time coaches in career wins (249)... Only coach in NCAA history to lead six different programs to bowl games and four different programs to final Top 20 rankings... Led Notre Dame to 1988 national championship.
Other ND names on the ballot include Tim Brown, Dave Casper, and Jim Seymour.

What's the Frequency, Kevin. After moving on from a 40 year business relationship with Westwood One, Notre Dame has found a new radio broadcasting company for Fighting Irish football.
The University of Notre Dame and ISP Sports, have approved a new, 10-year business partnership in which ISP will become the new exclusive national rights-holder for Notre Dame football radio broadcasts.

The Notre Dame-ISP relationship will begin with the 2008 season and extend through the 2017 season -- with ISP managing, producing and syndicating Notre Dame's national football radio network.
Much more information such as broadcasters and which radio stations will be airing ND games isn't exactly clear.
Heisler said that while it isn't clear how many and which stations will carry Notre Dame games in various markets, he's hoping that most affiliates from last season will continue to broadcast the Irish.

"One of the questions will be, when you just look at the affiliation aspect of it, I think there would be a natural hope that a great number of the stations that have carried our games would continue to do that," he said.
Checking the ISP website, the list of stations that will be carrying the game so far isn't that lengthy. Hopefully more will be added before the season starts. It would also be nice if ISP could put together a website as user-friendly as the Westwood One page that featured audio highlights and full game rebroadcasts.

Mo' Money. Already named a National Scholar by the National Football Foundation, John Carlson was also recently awarded a postgraduate scholarship by the NCAA.
Former Notre Dame football standout John Carlson (Litchfield, Minn./Litchfield) has been awarded a postgraduate scholarship through the NCAA. Carlson was one of 29 male student-athletes who participated in a fall sport, which included cross country, football, soccer and water polo, to receive the $7,500 scholarship.

Carlson becomes the first Notre Dame football player to receive the honor since 1993 when Tim Ruddy earned a postgraduate scholarship. He is the 17th former Irish football player to be acknowledged and the 43rd former Notre Dame student-athlete to earn the prestigious grant since the award's inception in 1964.
Carlson is the 11th ND football player to earn postgraduate scholarships from both the National Football Foundation and NCAA.

On Second Thought. It's always great to read about football recruits that proclaim ND as a major childhood favorite. Incoming freshman Robert Blanton was not one of those kids.

Blanton eventually picked Notre Dame, but, at this time a year ago, Tech was at the top of his list.

“When my coach first started bringing me mail from Notre Dame, I told him, ‘I’m never going there,’ “ Blanton said. “That’s why I never say never anymore.”

Blanton lived in Portland, Ore., until the sixth grade and was late in gaining familiarity with teams from the Carolinas. He said he invariably rooted for underdogs like Oregon and Oregon State and originally was put off by Notre Dame.

ND kept on the defensive back though and a trip to campus changed his tune.

“I loved the home environment at Notre Dame and the only other place I saw it was at Virginia Tech,” Blanton said. “There weren’t comparisons with any other school.

“I prayed for a long time and I asked God, ‘If it was meant for me to go to Virginia Tech, don’t let Notre Dame offer me.’ And I said. ‘If it was meant for me to go to Notre Dame, then let them offer me.

“I went up there and they offered me and then I took two more visits to make sure that that’s where I wanted to go. I committed on my third trip.”

Classes by the Charles. In addition to prepping for his second NFL season and a likely starting role with the Bengals, Chinedum Ndukwe is taking some time to hang out in Beantown this spring.
Three Bengals players—tight end Nate Lawrie, safety Chinedum Ndukwe and wide receiver Tab Perry—will participate in the 2008 NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program. Ndukwe and Perry will attend sessions at the Harvard Business School from Feb. 24-27 and April 7-9, while Lawrie will participate at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania from Feb. 24-27 and March 25-27.

During the breaks between the two sessions of their programs, players will work on projects that are outlined in the opening session.

"This is a great opportunity that the NFL provides," said Ndukwe, a second-year player from Notre Dame. "It's basically free education from top professors, something that other people pay a lot of money to get. I have a strong interest in business and business strategy, and I know we'll be looking at a lot of things, like case studies, that should help me a great deal."
There are actually a few different Nedu articles floating around out there including this read on Nedu's Super Bowl bus trip with buddy Brady Quinn, news on a contract bonus he earned, and even a blog post written by Ndukwe himself on Yardbarker. We'll add his Yardbarker blog page to the new athlete blog section on the right hand sidebar. By our count that makes three members of the Class of 2007 who are blogging about their pro football careers in some form or fashion. If you see any more, make sure to let us know.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pro Day Production | by Pat

For the final big test before April's NFL Draft, ND held its annual Pro Day on Wednesday in front of 31 scouts from 23 different NFL teams. has the complete rundown of all the various times and quotes from the day, but here are some of the highlights.

John Carlson was the main attraction as he was trying to prove that his average performance at the NFL Combine was due to lingering effects of the virus he caught in the preceding weeks. By all reports he did well enough to make sure he will be in the discussion for the top tight end taken in the draft. After running a 4.89 at Indy, Carlson ran a 4.67 and 4.72 in his two attempts on Wednesday. He also improved his vertical leap from 30.5 to 35.5 inches. In all Carlson worked out for a full hour for scouts, longer than any other player. It has to impress at least a few teams that despite being one of the top tight ends in the draft, Carlson has not shied away from any workout or drill during the pre-Draft evaluation period.

Newly signed Under Armour rep Trevor Laws and John Sullivan stuck with position specific drills while Zibby performed some of the timed workout drills that he skipped at the Combine. His 3-cone time of 6.79 seconds would have been good for second best at the Combine among safeties. He also notched 32.5 inches in the vertical jump test and 9'1" in the broad jump. One other note was that despite the reported 4.52 time at the Combine, Zibby's official 40 time that was distributed to all NFL teams was actually 4.44. It might not sound like much of a difference, but getting under that 4.5 mark will only help him when NFL teams start digging deep for reasons to move players around on their draft boards. Zibby's spot in the draft is still a big question mark, but he does appear to be trending upwards instead of sliding into lower rounds.

“He got everyone’s attention,” Weis said.

Including former NFL all-pro cornerback Deion Sanders, who raved about Zbikowski while covering the combine for the NFL Network last month and who is expected to invite the 5-11, 212-pounder to Dallas to work out with him prior to the April 26-27 draft.

“I hope that happens,” Zbikowski said. “But whatever happens, I’m going to continue to work hard, stay positive and be happy with whoever wants me. This isn’t a time to let up with my effort.”
Also working out at the ND Pro Day were a handful of Irish players who weren't invited to the NFL Combine. Joe Brockington, Travis Thomas, Dwight Stephenson Jr., Geoff Price, and J.J. Jansen all performed for scouts in hopes of catching someone's eye. has their times and while none of them are expected to be drafted, there is a chance a few might catch on as free agents. If you're interested in Travis Thomas's take on the 2007 season and his NFL chances, NBCSports has an interview and accompanying video from last month that is worth a read.

I thought it was a bit funny at first that walk-on long snapper J.J. Jansen was timed in the 40 (4.85 if you're curious), but then I remembered an anecdote on why the 40 yard dash came into favor as a football testing device. As the story goes, NFL legend Paul Brown began to use the 40 as a measure of football speed because he figured that was about the average distance a player covered on a typical punt. Given that Jansen's duties in the NFL will involve hiking the ball accurately and then running 40 yards downfield as fast as he can, I guess running the 40 makes sense after all. Charlie seemed to think that Jansen has a legit chance to make an NFL team.
"We had Lonnie Paxton at New England who had gone to Cal-something, one of those Cal schools that isn't Cal, I know he signed a contract, his second contract was four years, $6 million. And all he did was long snap. No position. I think he (Jansen) has a skill that allows a team to sign him cheap the first time around, you'll be able to get him at the minimum, what's it $300,000 or $400,000. That's a lot of money, but for a team when you don't have to play a veteran that you're paying a million dollars, you can pay a guy for the minimum, it's a good deal."
One last note. WNDU has a short video report on the Pro Day so you can watch Carlson run around and catch the football a few times if you so desire. The noteworthy part is when Jeff Jeffers mentions some of the younger Irish players in attendance and notes that Jimmy Clausen is 17 pounds heavier than he was last season. For those starved for winter conditioning updates, there's your first notable scoop of the spring.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day | by Pat

So how did this University, founded by a French priest, become so synonymous with all things Irish? Cue Shake Down the Thunder.

In 1927, [former student press agent Francis] Wallace moved to the mass circulation New York Daily News and disseminated "Fighting Irish" to a huge audience. The wire services then began employing the term and, that same year, when the editor of the World wrote to the Golden Dome about the official Notre Dame position on the nickname, President Walsh decided to put the school's imprimatur on "Fighting Irish."

Walsh acted mainly to short-circuit the increasing popularity of "Ramblers," "Nomads," and their variants (in fact, it took many years for these nicknames, as well as "Catholics" and "Hoosiers," to disappear). His 1927 reply to Herbert Bayard Swope, the influential editor of the New York World, permanently set Notre Dame's policy:

The University authorities are in no way averse to the name "Fighting Irish" as applied to our athletic teams....It seems to embody the kind of spirit that we like to see carried into effect by the various organizations which represent us on the athletic field. I sincerely hope that we may always be worthy of the ideals embodied in the term "Fighting Irish."

N.D. players of non-Irish descent also approved of the nickname. For Harry Stuhldreher, of German ancestry, it represented the team's "fighting, competitive spirit," and he liked to quote Rockne's retort to reporters who listed all the non-Irish players on the roster -- "They're all Irish to me. They have the Irish spirit and that's what counts."
That's right, it's St. Patrick's Day and you're all Irish to us. Sláinte! Of course, if like Stuhldreher (and me) you are also of German descent and want to pay homage to your mixed lineage, the Bookstore has you covered.

(thanks to Father Nieuwland and FightingIrishRadio for an assist on the quotes)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bright Lights, Big City | by Pat

More football posts are in the pipeline, but tonight ND kicks off the basketball post-season with a quarterfinal game in the Big East Tournament. If you haven't been following the 24-6 Irish hoops team on TV and at sites like Black and Green and Rakes of Mallow all season long, make sure to get over to those fine blogs ASAP.

Bringing Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody, 1st Team All-Big East Kyle McAlarney, and back-to-back Big East Coach of the Year Mike Brey, the Fighting Irish are set to take on Marquette tonight on ESPN at 9:30 pm at Madison Square Garden.

The records and notable achievements notched by this year's squad are lengthy and impressive. But rather than drone on with numbers and stats, we'll just give you something fun from ndnation poster wvfiaces2 to get you ready for the game tonight. Go Irish!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Approaching the Bench | by Pat

Coinciding with the most recent NFL Combine, there is a recent interview ($) with Mendoza on that provides some insight into ND's strength program and perhaps a few clues as to why we're seeing the Combine results we are. Amid the talk about the physical development of the team and how Mendoza sees them responding to his motivation was this nugget about the focus of his efforts.

Olympic-type workouts to develop strong bursts and explosiveness are the cornerstone of the program, with bench press, squats and other power exercises for building raw strength priority No. 2.
Of course, the bench press is a still a weight room staple, but according to Mendoza ($) in an interview from 2006, the goal has been to build the player from the ground up.
"Everything is ground based that we do, but it starts with your legs. Again with football you have to play on the ground, so one of my concerns was our leg strength when I first got here. I’m really really excited in the things that we’ve done in a year and a half.”
Getting back to the Combine results for a second, ND's only offensive linemen at the pre-draft event this year was John Sullivan. He benched the requisite 225 pounds 21 times, which was only 35th best out of the invited linemen. Last year's ND OL performance similarly drew more than a few raised eyebrows when Ryan Harris (22) and Dan Santucci (23) were out-benched by their own quarterback. The average bench for an offensive lineman that year was 27 reps so even allowing for Brady Quinn's record-breaking bench total, Harris and Santucci were below the average output of their peers.

ND players do seem to do better in tests that emphasis Mendoza's priorities, such as "explosiveness" and leg strength. While Sully's bench numbers weren't near the top, he had the 2nd highest vertical leap among offensive linemen. Similarly, Carlson was near the top for tight ends and Trevor Laws had the best vertical among defensive tackles. Last year, Santucci's vertical jump was good for 7th best, as was Ndukwe's when compared to other safeties. Darius Walker had the best jump of any running back and one of the top jumps at the entire combine. The Irish players have also performed well in drills like the 3-cone drill or shuttle runs that measure ability to quickly change direction.

Of course, even if we agree that his training methods are effective, that doesn't answer the question of if they are the ideal ones for ND football. I imagine many Irish fans don't get too excited about an offensive lineman's vertical jump or 3-cone drill time while ND continues to struggle on 3rd and short.

As the head of the program, Charlie is the one that ultimately puts his stamp of approval on ND's strength training regimen. It would be especially interesting to hear Charlie's thoughts on the ND strength and conditioning program, especially considering his new routine of hanging around the weight room each morning while the players are lifting. Does he like what he sees? Does he even care about the NFL Combine results? Has he asked for any changes?

Mendoza did let out that this winter the focus of the OL has changed a bit from the rest of the team. The O-line will slow down a bit on the conditioning aspect of training and work on gaining more mass. However, as with the rest of the recent changes to how the program is going to be run, we're just going to have to wait until the team takes the field in September to judge the results.

Monday, March 03, 2008

CFBA Awards: Best ND/Big East Blog | by Pat

We sort of dropped the ball when it came to hyping the nomination process for The 2007 College Football Blogger Awards, but the votes have been tallied and as last year's winner in this category, we're honored to present the award this year for the Best ND/Big East Blog.

If you're just tuning into the Award ceremony, you can head over to Rocky Top Talk to see the schedule for Day One of the awards as well as today's schedule.

Now then, on with the award.

The nominees for this year's Best ND/Big East Blog are:

The envelope please...

Runner-Up: Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician. One of the best named blogs out there, this Syracuse blog is self-described 'light on statistics, heavy on smartassery". Throw in frequent youtube clips and criticism of Syracuse's athletic director and you have this year's ND/Big East Blog runner-up. My Syracuse alum co-worker loves this blog, especially since he actually taught Troy Nunes in a math class and claims he's a mathmagician as well.

And the winner is.....

Card Chronicle

Card fan Mike puts out steady content that is at once interesting, funny, and easy to read. Throw in hilarious use of Cardinal pictures, and it's easy to see why so many fellow bloggers felt that Card Chronicle is one of the best blogs around and tops in the ND/Big East category this year.

More than just a narrow focus on the ups and downs of Louisville sports, Mike also takes a regular step back to consider the goings-on in the Big East at large as well as a regular "What to Watch" feature letting readers know about other games of interest. If you're a Big East basketball fan, you should definitely have Card Chronicle on your list of must-read blogs as Mike does a fantastic job covering the nation's top basketball conference. When it comes to football, Mike's handling of Louisville's rough first year under new head coach Steve Kragthorpe was one of the reasons he finished as the runner-up for this year's Job Award.

Started up just last year, Card Chronicle was a runner-up in this category last year as well as Best New Blog. As CC heads towards its all-important junior season, it will likely be a fixture in conversations involving the very best sports blogs out there, regardless of conference. Congrats again Card Chronicle.

Next up: Head over to mgoblog around noon to see the award for Best Big 10 blog.

Measuring the measurables | by Pat

The final NFL Combine ever to be held in the Indianapolis RCA Dome is over and it was a bit of a mixed bag for the Irish participants. Here is a quick numbers breakdown of how each Domer did. The number in parenthesis is how they ranked in each particular category against other players at their position (TE, OL, DT, S).

Player 40 Yard
20 Yard
60 Yard
John Carlson 4.89 (13th)
20 (T-10th)
30.5 (6th)
4.28 (5th)
11.50 (3rd)
John Sullivan
5.40 (27th) 21( T-35th)
30.0 (2nd)
4.55 (T-5th)
Trevor Laws
5.08 (7th)
35 (T-1st)
30.5 (1st)
- -
Tom Zbikowski
4.52 (7th)
24 (2nd)
- - -

NFL Network featured all four Irish players in video interviews. Click the links to hear from Carlson, Sullivan, Laws, and Zibby. You can also check out Trevor Laws in action at the combine.

It's typical for print and online draftniks to overreact to the Combine results while NFL coaches and GMs tend to value the interview and medical results as more important than what happens on the Hoosier Dome turf. Still, there is no denying that a player's performance at the Combine affects his ultimate draft spot in April. The takeaway for the Irish quartet is that Carlson's stock slipped a bit, Zibby and Sully improved theirs slightly, and Trevor saw his stock continue to shoot up following his impressive Senior Bowl showing.

Carlson's 40 time and bench result were lower than expected, but he looked solid catching the ball in the passing drills. Whether or not Carlson's speed and strength were affected by his recent bout with a virus will be answered by how he does in the same events at ND's Pro Day. If he can improve, he will likely be drafted somewhere around his current 2nd round projection.

Zibby wasn't always as smooth catching the ball, but he showed a good mix of speed and strength as expected. He also provided a few good lines.
"The one story I heard that I like was Zbikowski was meeting with a defensive coordinator (during the combine interview process)," Wright said. "The coach had him draw up a play and then he said, 'I still don't think you can cover that receiver.'

"And he told the coach, 'Well, if I can't cover him, I'll knock the ball loose when he tries to catch it. And if you don't think I can, I'll go to one of the other three teams in your division and show you I can.'
Zibby followed that up by snapping "Don't call me that again" in the middle of his bench press test when the spotter tried to motivate him with a "Come on Rudy!" Where he'll fall in the draft iis a bit of a question mark as he's currently being projected anywhere from the 3rd to 6th round. His versatility as a special teams player will help, but some NFL coaches, like the one above presumably, aren't completely convinced at his ability to be a front line safety in the NFL. I like how Mike Mayock of the NFL Network put it. "This is the kind of kid that gets in the starting lineup somehow and you just can't get him out of it." After watching Ndukwe go from 7th round draft pick to end of the year starter and Ryan Grant emerge as one of the league's leading rushers, I'm not ruling anything out.

Sullivan's bench press numbers weren't great for an offensive lineman, and we'll take a closer look at ND players and combine performances, especially in the bench press, in another post shortly. But Sully did earn some praise once the action moved on to the field.
Sullivan is trying to make up for a poor senior campaign and did well in Indianapolis. He displayed terrific quickness and explosion through the midday workout and had some of the best footwork of any linemen in attendance.
Centers rarely get drafted high, so even with a solid performance in Indy, Sully will likely have to wait until the mid to later rounds to hear his name.

Laws was the big winner as far as players that had a great start to finish Combine. Starting from when he officially measured in at over 6 feet to his outstanding performance on the bench, Laws did a great job countering the knocks that he's too short and/or not strong enough to man the middle in the NFL. Most of the current projections have him being picked up in the 2nd or 3rd round.

With the combine, the next step will be the Notre Dame Pro Day on March 19th where Carlson, Sully, Zibby, and Laws will be joined by the rest of the 5th year and senior players looking to make an NFL roster.