Tuesday, April 08, 2008

120 Minutes | by Pat

Last week we took a look at some of the notes and quotes from the opening 20 minutes of the first few practices. Now we get to dig into the data dump following this past Saturday's two hour open practice. But before we get to all of the links and videos, a comparison is in order.

Last year, at the open media practice, the Irish practiced running the ball but stopped short of taking each other to the ground whenever possible. Here's a quick clip to refresh your memory. Check it out. Players were running around, but were under orders to pull up rather than really lay into one another.

Counter that with the emotion on display in this video clip from Saturday's practice. Seems just a bit different, right?

Of course, it will take a bit more than a few practice scuffles to get ND back to where they need to be. But it sure is fun to watch the team do more than half-speed drills. This program has not been without energy and passion since Charlie took over. But watching the various videos from this past Saturday, it seems the team, top to bottom, are enjoying themselves a lot more than in the practice videos from years past. Let's hope reality matches perception.

Getting to clips of the team practicing running drills this past Saturday, you can get a real apples to apples comparison with last year's video. The latest drills start about 1:20 into this practice summary video. (This video also includes some other practice highlights including Eric Olsen's response to the defense after the Irish Eyes drill scuffle linked above and Sam Young's attempt to become ND's top secret super-sized punt returner. And a tip of the hat to Subway Domer who posts these youtube-ized Irish Illustrated practice videos.)

If you want to start at the beginning and get the full practice rundown, both Michael Rothstein and Ben Ford have long, but well worth it, recaps. Und.com has an excellent video collection including the normal practice report as well as the O vs. D running plays, the red zone work, and WR vs. DB drills, and the OL & RB group drills.

The major points coming out of the day seem to boil down to Clausen being impressive in his accuracy, the aforementioned spirit and energy of some of the drills, and the fact that the whole team had to run when Brandon Walker missed a end of practice field goal.

The South Bend Tribune had a nice story on Walker, his work to regain his confidence, and discussion of who he's working with to improve his accuracy.

But he does have a few on speed dial. At the top of the list is Irish teammate Ryan Burkhart, a junior-to-be from NorthWood High, who has made quantum strides himself this winter by all accounts. Then there's former Ohio State kicker Josh Huston, whose father, Denny, was Walker's kicking coach in high school.

"They live right down the street," Walker said. "So I call him every once in a while if I have technique issues. I kick with him in the offseason. Findlay, Ohio, (High School) is pretty well known for kickers. Five out of the past six kickers have gone on to play Division I, and the guy behind me is on the same tract. I stay in contact with those guys."
I confess that the "quantum strides" mention along with Burkhart has piqued my curiosity. Hopefully it's in the area of kickoffs. To restate the painfully obvious, ND needs to find a big and consistent leg there. Last year's primary kickoff specialist, Nate Whitaker, isn't listed on the team roster anymore so presumably he's left the team.

Now that we're about halfway through spring ball many of my hopes and worries have remained the same. Nothing has risen up to assuage my concern about the thin and inexperienced DL while at the same time I've seen little to dampen my thoughts that Clausen the OL will be very much improved. Like I wrote earlier, it's just not spring practice without those familiar optimistic thoughts rising to the surface, but there are still those nagging fears that aren't going to go away so easily. What's your take so far? What do you hope to see at the Blue and Gold game?