Thursday, March 29, 2007

Irish O-Line Taking Shape?

I don't know about you, but I am almost completely frustrated by the near-total lockdown on actual information coming out of Notre Dame's Spring football practices. As I sit here and watch the on-line video provided by Fighting Irish All-Access I ask myself: Why is a grown man sitting here watching bad video of college football players stretching? But I watch anyway because that is all there is to do for now. NCAA basketball isn't any fun anymore since my brackets imploded. (Way to go Kansas!). Baseball has yet to start in earnest. The NBA is unwatchable. So we beg for tidbits from Spring football practice.

As we watch the video we see that the defensive backs and linebackers can catch balls thrown right at them with no offensive players on the field. We are impressed by the running backs' ability to run over small bags without tripping and falling (most of the time). We see how polished all five quarterbacks look handing the ball off. Yes, I said five quarterbacks. Who the heck is #16? But we don't get to see any of the quarterbacks actually drop back and let it fly. We don't get to see if the offensive line can block anybody, or if the receivers can catch. Can the defensive backs cover worth a darn? No way to tell. So we wait for the full open practice on Saturday (can you say "special teams day"?) and the Blue-Gold game. And we hope against hope that the team is making good progress.

In reading the tea leaves available, it does sound like the offensive line may be taking shape, at least as far as an initial version of the starting lineup goes. The recent All-Access interview with Sam Young suggests strongly that Young will be the starting right tackle (duh!) and that he will be playing beside his old high school teammate Dan Wenger. So the right side shapes up as Sullivan at Center, Wenger at Guard, and Young at Tackle. Hopefully those guys can become a reliable trio on 3rd-down-and-2. On the left side, it looks like Paul Duncan has initially established himself as the starter. Who will be the left guard? There seem to be a lot of candidates. has Mike Turkovich penciled in. Eric Olsen is in the mix. Matt Carufel has also been getting some mention as having made big strides in the off-season.

The competition is no doubt fierce. And those guys better step up now, or they could get elbowed aside in the Fall when guys like Emeka Nwankwo show up.

Who do you like on the O-line?

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.

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.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Are the Irish playing in Orange County?

Bumping around the web I came across a great page that collects in one place the combined schedules for all Notre Dame sports teams. With one look you can tell if any ND teams are playing near you any time soon. The Notre Dame women's softball team has spent a lot of time in Southern California recently. On March 11 they split a couple of games in Long Beach, and this past weekend they had a rough go of it (winning one and losing four) at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton.

The next Irish team to venture into our area is the track team, select members of which will be in Northern California at the Stanford Invitational on March 31st, and at the Mt. SAC Relays here in Orange County on April 13, 14, and 15.

Not everyone enjoys a good track meet, but if you do, the Mt. SAC Relays is one of the best meets in the world. If you go, be sure to "Cheer, Cheer for old Notre Dame."

I've added the link to combined Notre Dame sports schedule to the blog roll here at OC Domer, so you can check back often.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

St. Patrick's Day has long been among the most important of Holy Days for Domers everywhere. The OC Domer wishes all of you a Happy St. Paddy's Day, and I even got you a present - Ms. Marissa O'Malley, who is from right here in the OC. I don't know Marissa, but I wouldn't object to meeting her.

Madness. Irish stone cold in Spokane.

Props to Winthrop, who outplayed Notre Dame today in almost every facet of the game. The Irish, a #6 seed who thought they should have been a #4 seed got dropped by a #11 seed who showed up ready to play today. I don't know if it is on the players or on Coach Brey, but Notre Dame looked horrible shooting the ball today. Overall they shot 43%, but were only 3 of 13 from the free throw line. 3 of 13? Likewise, they shot only 22% from 3-point range (5 of 22). Live by the 3, die by the 3. The Eagles, by way of contrast, hit 8 of 22 from deep, and 10 of 19 free throws. Not great, but good enough. Equally galling was the poor rebounding. Notre Dame had 31 rebounds to Winthrop's 40. And to top it all off, the Eagles had 16 assists to ND's 6. The only category in which the Irish significantly outplayed the Eagles was fouls. Notre Dame committed 24 fouls to Winthrop's 13. Way to be physical guys.

So, Notre Dame gets to be part of the NCAA tournament highlight reel all weekend as Winthrop basks in the glow that comes from being Cinderella.

The only good news that I saw in the game was that, despite the poor performance, the team never gave up. They were down by 20 points and came all the way back to briefly take the lead late in the game before finally bowing out. That heart is at least something for a young team to build on next year.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Blue-Gold Game for the Ages

Notre Dame has announced the dates and times of ticket sales for the 2007 Blue-Gold game, to be held on April 21st. One of the biggest frustrations about living out here in California is that road trips to events like this just aren't possible most of the time, unless you just happen to have an extra $1,000 laying around for airline tickets, rental car, and hotel room. I'm reminded of the bumper sticker that says "Driver carries no cash. He's married." It's too bad, because this year's Blue-Gold game could be one for the ages. Think about it. The public debut of Jimmy Clausen, who could very well be the next Brady Quinn, or better. The debut of a new defensive coordinator and a new defensive scheme. The first meaningful look at a lot of young players who will be counted on in the Fall. And to top it all off, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz prowling the sidelines of Notre Dame Stadium on the same day as honorary coaches. The "Era of Ara" was when I came of age as a Notre Dame fan, and for me it will be pretty emotional to see Coach Parseghian back in the stadium. And Lou was no slouch either, although I blame him and his quirky offense for our long-term difficulties recruiting talented players to the skill positions.

Heck, I may have just talked myself into buying those plane tickets after all.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


March Madness is here. I don't follow Notre Dame basketball nearly as closely as I do Irish football, but I have been interested to watch how well a promising BBall team rebounded from the loss of their starting point guard at the beginning of the season. Although they sputtered a bit at first, the team looked very strong at the end of the season and most "experts" projected them as a #4 seed in the tourney. Of course we got worked in the back room, and are actually a #6 seed in the "Midwest" region. Sounds okay, right? It is okay, except for two things. First, the "Midwest" has apparently been redefined in your atlas so that it now includes Spokane, Washington. Nice town, but it's not in the midwest. Which means we travel a long way from our midwestern home to play in the "Midwest" regional. The second issue is our draw. We play the Winthrop Eagles, who were undefeated in their conference this season and who have been picked as everyone's Cinderella team for this tournament.

Well, to that I say: Winthrop? Who the heck is Winthrop?

The 4th place team from the Big East will crush the Eagles like a bug! Then we will shock the world by defeating Oregon, before bowing out of the tourney against Wisconsin. That's my prediction. In my bracket I have a Wisconsin, Kansas, Georgetown, and Ohio State final four, with Kansas beating G-Town in the final.

Father Ted is Turning 90

Notre Dame sent me a mailer yesterday, with information on some of the plans they are making to celebrate the Father Ted Hesburgh's 90th birthday, which is in May. Sounds like a very nice celebration. But it got me to thinking. Where would I rank Father Ted on the list of important figures in the history of Notre Dame? It's a tough call, but I think I would put him #3, behind Fr. Sorin (founded the University), and Knute Rockne (chemistry professor).

Where would you put him?

Welcome to OC Domer!

I am a 1986 graduate of the University of Notre Dame living in the heart of Orange County, California. Working hard and raising two kids with my wonderful wife (SMC '86), I'm running the rat race like everyone else I see on the freeways of Southern California. I am passionate about my family and my University. My family won't want me blogging about them, but the University doesn't seem to mind. So I'll share my opinions about Fighting Irish football, the University in general, politics, and anything else that comes to mind.