Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hope Springs Eternal

The Fighting Irish take the field today for their first Spring practice. Or, at least, they take to the Loftus Sports Center. Like most semi-obsessed Notre Dame football fans, I've been reading with great interest all of the obligatory "preview" articles appearing across the internet that try to break down the key questions of the Spring. I won't be writing a preview. I live 2000 miles from the Loftus Center, and I only get to watch the Irish play on TV. Which means I know next to nothing about any of the players that will start competing today for a chance to emerge as a Notre Dame legend in the Fall. I don't know any of the players personally. I never saw them play in high school. I have never attended a practice or watched them work out. And most of them have so little actual playing time at Notre Dame (if any) that it is next to impossible, by watching on TV, to evaluate their talent at the most rudimentary level, let alone project whether our new guy is going to be better than the new guy from any of the twelve schools we'll be playing in the Fall. All of which means I am totally unqualified to preview the depth chart battles that are now underway or to predict who will emerge as the winners come September.

I suspect that many of those writing preview articles are just about as qualified as I am, but it's a free internet and everyone is entitled to their opinion. At least it makes for good entertainment given the near-total vacuum of actual information that exists under Coach Weis' closed-practice and closed-mouth operating principles.

This doesn't mean that I don't have an opinion, or two. It is my opinion that beyond Coach Weis, his staff, and his players, nobody knows what they are talking about with respect to next year's line-up. We have so many young players without any significant playing time competing for jobs that there is no way to know how it will shake out. The Spring will bring some answers for the coaches and players, but not for us fans (although we'll get a tantalizing, sanitized glimpse on April 21st). Things will settle down even more in August as the tentative two-deep line-ups are set, although the fans won't know anything at all until the week leading up to Georgia Tech. But I don't think the Georgia Tech game will end the discussion.

That's because despite all the practices, the work-outs, and the meetings, you just never know how a young kid will perform on game day. You have to expect that some of the players who looked great in the Spring, and who stepped up in August are just not going to be able to translate that performance to Notre Dame Stadium on a September Saturday. Likewise, some kids who didn't quite break through and establish themselves over the Summer are going to get a chance to play, maybe on special teams, maybe in mop-up time, and they are going to seize that chance with both fists and make a name for themselves. Some kids are gamers. Some are workout wonders. With so many uncertainties going into next season, I think we're going to be well into September before we know which kids are which, whether that is at quarterback, linebacker, or cornerback.

What's a fan to do? We can hope. Spring is the season of hope, and that is our role. We can't lift weights, we can't hold the blocking dummy, we can't help the young cornerbacks with their footwork. So we hope. We hope that Coach Weis and Coach Brown really do have the mojo and the savvy needed to teach our very young players how to play this game at the highest level in a very short period of time. We hope that the young men Coach Weis and his staff have brought to Our Lady's University are really all that and a bag of chips. We hope that at least one of the quarterbacks really can grasp and run this complex offense with confidence. We hope the young offensive linemen play better than the seniors who are about to graduate. We hope the defensive backs can cover the seam route, and that we can develop a pass rush. We hope all those kids coming off injuries are 100% "GO!" for this season. We hope we find a guy who can kick the ball through the end zone and one who can make a 40-yard field goal.

We hope. And those of us who have been "hoping" since we were toddlers - we believe.

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