Thursday, April 30, 2009

Five Points Bulletin | by Jay

Kevin sent out a little roundtable roundup to the BGS crew, asking for five takeaways from the spring for Irish pigskin. Here's what we noticed.

Kevin. 1. ND still does not have an answer at the third wide receiver spot. On the bright side, Robby Parris, Duval Kamara, Deion Walker, and John Goodman -- as well as Shaquelle Evans -- still have the opportunity to earn significant playing time. On the other hand, none of them have yet seized the job.

2. Someone will be confused, and I hope it's not us. The pass rush in the Blue and Gold game appeared to confound and at times overwhelm the offense. I hope the we find that our defense is easily confusing, and not that our offense is easily confused.

3. While I don't think we'll see anything on the level of moving a running back to the other side of the line, the situation at linebacker remains in flux. Will Brian Smith move to one of the outside spots and gain the opportunity to make himself even more of a disruptive presence, or will he be forced to stay inside?

4. Where will Ethan Johnson play: DE or DT? Does it matter? If Ethan plays a three-technique tackle position, will he still be able to help create a pass rush, or is his size and speed best left on the outside? Will the quality of Notre Dame's interior line personnel even permit such a move?

5. The Blue and Gold Game emergence of Joe Fauria was encouraging. He is an able blocker, he seemed to have decent speed, and he caught the ball pretty well. If Fauria and/or Ragone can complement Kyle Rudolph, the possibilities for the Weis offense are exciting.

Michael. A. Our secondary is good. Our safeties didn't miss any tackles (see Zibby, Bruton vs. Hawaii) and they delivered big hits to receivers across the middle. Robert Blanton was as good as advertised, Jamaris Slaughter showed some skills, and Leonard Gordon definitely surprised. Did anyone even try to throw on Darrin Walls? He played, but I don't even remember seeing him much. Probably a great sign.

B. We have some talent at TE. Fauria showed he can block and catch the ball. Ragone may not be all the way back but he got open down the seam and was used as the primary receiver on a play action bootleg. That was exciting to see. And then there's Kyle Rudolph, who just does it all. Walk-on Bobby Burger, whom Weis said will definitely be in the mix come fall, didn't play.

C. Randy Hart is going to put together a good DL. His track record, his style, and the young talent he has to work with make me confident of this. I expected to hear Ethan Johnson's name a few times, but it was surprising to hear Brandon Newman's name called as many times as it was. Competition, competition, competition. It sure beats the Landri-Laws-Beidatsch days where depth was pitiful.

D. I like Verducci's style. I want to believe what everyone (Charlie, Verducci, Sam Young, et al.) said about improvement, but I need to see it in September. I've been critical of Paul Duncan, and it appears he's heading for a Turkovich-like transformation. It was also disappointing that Dever, Romine, and Robinson were hurt or sick and missed time. Especially the OTs who we'll need in '10.

E. Lots of movement in the LB depth chart-- what does it all mean, and how will Manti's arrival affect the two-deep? This is what has me most intrigued, even moreso than the young DL.

Pat. 1. Given the concerns about left tackle, it was reassuring to hear all the praise for Paul Duncan from coaches and media types all spring long. On the other hand, with likely second teamers Trevor Robinson, Taylor Dever, and, for a time, Matt Romine missing spring practice, there are still plenty of questions about OL depth.

2. Speaking of questions, there were plenty of other interesting issues we didn't get a sneak peak at during the Blue-Gold game. How James Aldridge looks at fullback will have to wait until the fall. Is the Goodman at QB just an emergency contingency or might we actually get to see his arm this fall, possibily attempting the trick plays Samardzija was never able to complete in a game? Seeing Darius Fleming at his new position of SAM 'backer will have to wait, as will seeing Kapron Lewis-Moore in action. Heck, it's possible that Fleming, KLM, Ethan Johnson, and Kerry Neal will be the front four for a majority of the downs next season and Ethan is the only one who played in the Blue-Gold game. That leads me to the next observation.

3. There is plenty of hope about the young and talented D-line, but how they will perform against opposing teams is still a question mark. Honoray coach Justin Tuck's comments (""I feel as though they're very versatile. Especially Ethan [Johnson]. That defensive line has the opportunity to make a lot of strides.") are certainly encouraging while fellow honorary coach Bertrand Berry's ("The one place where I saw glaring need was in the endurance level, on the defensive front in particular.") highlight that there is still development needed for a line that might not have a senior in the two-deep in the fall.

4. It was fun to watch the practice clips of new coaches Alford, Hart, and Verducci. The trio were certainly not short on emotion and intensity on the practice field. Let's hope it carries over to their players this fall.

5. Except for the fact that Brian Smith won't leave the field much, I still have no idea how the linebacker rotation will play out . What happens when Darius Fleming is back from injury? Can Toryan hold down the middle 'backer spot? Where will Manti fit in? What does the future hold for Filer?

Mike. (1) Offensive position battles - Heading into spring, I thought the key position battle on offense would be left tackle - would Matt Romine or Trevor Robinson challenge Duncan for the position? (While Robinson seems like a guard ill-suited for tackle, I thought the same about Turkovich heading into last year and Turkovich did well at LT.) However, Duncan seemed to lock up the position so quickly that even a healthy Robinson probably wouldn't have changed things. Instead, the real position battles on offense were at FB (prior to Aldridge's injury), 2nd TE, 3rd WR and the backup OL positions.

(2) Depth issues - I was disappointed by how much effect the spring absences appeared to have. The loss of Golden Tate (baseball) and Michael Floyd (injury) reportedly slowed the offense quite a bit. Given the talent of Tate and Floyd, oI would expect their loss to be noticeable, but I would have hoped that Duval Kamara, John Goodman and Deion Walker would have softened the blow a little more. Kerry Neal's injury left the defensive line without its most experienced member - and Neal was in high school when Brady Quinn was still at ND. Darius Fleming appears to be projected as the starter at Sam, but what does that say when he hasn't played the position before and missed the entire spring? There's a number of positions where an injury could be quite costly.

(3) Winning first down - Pat toyed with ways to measure defensive success on first down last year and I really think that is the key to the entire defense this year. The talent and depth in the secondary, the increased speed in the front seven and Tenuta's attacking style will give offenses fits in obvious passing downs. But we have to get there first and I'm concerned about the defense's ability to hold up between the tackles against power running teams.

(4) Bert Berry's comments - Berry obviously cares about the program, so I can't imagine him making those comments regarding conditioning lightly. I placed much of the blame for the blown leads against Pitt and Syracuse on the offense, but I have to wonder now how significant a factor conditioning was in those come-from-ahead losses.

(5) Recruiting - I'm not one to immediately panic because no one committed at the spring game. Still, it would have been nice to pick up a commitment or two from one of the visitors to spring practice. I can understand the recruiting effort flagging a bit during spring ball, but if that really happened then the coaching staff needs to eke out every recruiting opportunity presented by the May evaluation period.

. Three quotes, one play, and one picture.

I. Hart's comments on the defensive line depth, and especially Ian Williams.
Q: For the guys who played here last year, what's the biggest adjustment in moving from the 3-4 to the 4-3?

Coach Hart: You know, I'm not sure. You'll have to talk to them. Most everybody has some form of the various defenses in their defensive package, no matter what you call it. As long as you can maintain techniques, you can line 'em up any way you want 'em. So I think the fact that we are trying to use very similar techniques and then line them up in an odd front, even front, whatever it is -- it's all basically football. As we say, it's "strike a blow, get off the block, pursue the football, and tackle."
II. Sam Young's comments on Verducci (and implications vis-a-vis Latina). What does that tell us?
"The improvement I'm seeing in myself and other guys on the line from Day One to now, it's phenomenal, it's unbelievable," Young said. "If we can keep up a trend like that, between working in the summer and camp in the fall, we've got a damn good shot of accomplishing what we want to do."
III. Lou's interview on Saturday of the BG game. It was a long, wide-ranging bull session, and included what I think are some veiled criticisms of Charlieball. (Rothstein has the whole transcript in parts, here, here and here.)

IV. The only takeaway from the actual Spring game itself for me was the appearance of what I believe is a new route in the arsenal. On one play, Hughes motioned out of the backfield, but then ran a 5-yard crossing pattern, and Clausen (or maybe it was Crist) hit him as the #1 option. This is the only major new wrinkle, scheme-wise, that I saw. Usually a back out of the backfield who catches a ball in this offense is sitting down underneath, waiting for an outlet. This time, he ran an actual pattern. Maybe it's nothing new -- maybe it's been buried in the playbook for years -- but it definitely caught my eye.

V. Charlie coaching the second half of the game from a barcalounger. Is there a third way between the sideline and the pressbox?

Pete. 1. As it's been the last two years, the ultimate success of the team rests on the successes or failures of the defensive and offensive lines. One is talented but green, the other is finally mature but doesn't have the greatest of resumes. On the one hand, it's a little unnerving to rest such hopes on two brand new coaches, but on the other, the coaches are new because those issues were recognized, and they're presumably here to fix them.

2. Linebacking seems to be another area of concern. I'm very interested to see how Te'o's arrival goes, because if he's as good as advertised, the defense could look a lot different by the regular season than it does now. Not exactly pinning any hopes to that, though.

3. I have no doubts that Clausen, despite a thoroughly 'meh' spring game, will be a reliable asset during the season. If there is one thing Weis can do, it's cultivate a quarterback.

4. I'm very enthused about having several tight ends on the roster again this year. It's evident that much of Weis's flexibility when it comes to gameplanning relies on an effective tight end that can block and catch passes, and it looks like we might have a couple of those. I don't know if talented tight ends are the Rosetta Stone of the Good Weis Offense, where passes get circulated, screens develop, and points are scored, as opposed to the Bad Weis Offense, where receivers don't get open, quarterbacks get sacked, and single yards on third down are as elusive as the Sasquatch, but I can hope.

5. So help me, optimism has me in its grasp. I'm trying my damndest to shake loose, but its tentacles are so strong.