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Monday, March 26, 2007

More Thoughts on Spring Ball


As I made abundantly clear in my previous post, I am entirely unqualified to make any predictions about what Notre Dame's depth chart will look like on September 1st, and I am forced by my total lack of credentials to place my trust in Coach Weis and his staff to get it right. With that caveat, I do have some thoughts based upon the trickle of information about Spring practice that has been released so far.

  1. Chris Stewart is moving from offensive guard to defensive nose tackle. When Stewart arrived as one of the first class of early admits last Spring, the most notable thing about him was his size. He was so big, in fact, that I considered him more of a project than a viable option until he got his weight down. Well, he has apparently lost 75 pounds and is looking more athletic in practices. In fact, I watched the video practice report from the first day of Spring practice and I was impressed by two things. First, he is still just a mountain of player. You watch the defensive linemen taking turns running through the various agility drills, and they all look to be in the same zip code, size wise. Until Stewart's turn. The camera seemingly has to zoom out so that he will fit into the video frame. As he works through the drill, one is reminded of the feeling you get when you're near the local airport and that really big airplane slowly flies directly over head at low altitude. In watching him, you quickly realize that if he is strong enough and quick enough to play nose tackle, the Irish will be very, very stout up the middle. The second thing that impressed me was his agility. He had good feet through the bags and carried himself very well for a guy of that size. Thus, from watching about 15 seconds of video, I am very optimistic that the move from offense to defense for Stewart will be successful, and that our defense will be greatly improved for it. That's because with Stewart at NT, Trevor Laws can play one of the defensive tackle spots for which he is probably better suited. And Laws at DT is certainly an upgrade over our other options at that position. Bottom line - moving Stewart to DT has the potential to make the defense markedly better at two positions.
  2. Munir Prince is moving from running back to cornerback. Munir's most notable impact on the Notre Dame football program to date is the insertion of the term "whooosh!" into the Irish lexicon. He showed some promising speed in his few carries last year, but also seemed too easy to bring down, lacking the strength to run through even an arm tackle. Of course, a freshman can be expected to gain size and strength as he matures, so one would expect this problem to abate over time. I did notice in watching the precious few seconds of practice video available that Munir seemed less polished running through the bags in his agility drills than almost every other back. I expected a player with such speed to "wow" me with his footwork, but my reaction was exactly the opposite. While he was quick, he had trouble keeping his feet pumping in the lateral drills and instead was hopping from side-to-side. I couldn't help but wonder whether this played any part in the position switch. Certainly, as of right now, the Irish have a good stable of running backs, and more need on defense. Prince was a standout at cornerback in high school, and seems a good fit for the team on defense. Certainly no Notre Dame fan can argue with the decision to add speed to the secondary. And given Gary Gray's recently fractured arm, adding more depth there is a good idea as well.
  3. Travis Thomas' move from linebacker back to offense appears to be a leadership move as much as a depth chart move. In listening to Coach Weis' remarks at his opening Spring press conference, I was struck by his comments on Thomas. It is clear that with the departure of Darius Walker that Coach expects Thomas to be the lead dog in showing the younger running backs how it is done. Coach made remarks about how, during workouts, when Travis "hasn't broken a sweat" the younger guys were "looking for the garbage cans to ... spit." CW wants the younger backs to look at TT and say to themselves "That's what I'm competing against." In listening to TT's post-practice interviews, it is clear that he is planning on being the man at running back, and that if any of the young backs want to carry the ball, they are going to have to work very hard to rip the ball out of Travis' hands. It certainly isn't going to be handed to them.
More unqualified opinions to follow, as facts and speculation trickle out of practice in the coming weeks.

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