SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Worse than Clausenmania, worse than Michigan, worse than ketchup-licorice swirl ice cream, Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis uncovered a concept on the first day of fall camp that he finds more repulsive than getting jumped in the polls by a team with a bye week.
Rebuil – well, let’s just say the “R” word.
“May God strike me dead if I use that word,” Weis said during Media Day activities in South Bend, Ind. “I never use that word. I have nine fifth-year seniors that came back for another year. Don’t you think I owe it to them to try to win this year?”
Point taken, but is it realistic? Here are some telltale story lines to look for between now and the Sept. 1 season opener with Georgia Tech that will hint at the Irish moving in the right direction and away from rebuilding.
Youth is served at quarterback. Junior Evan Sharpley is the safe choice, but his ceiling isn’t as high as either sophomore Demetrius Jones’ or freshman fascination Jimmy Clausen’s. Maybe Weis will go with a combination of the two. Maybe that’s what he wants everyone to think.
Two things are for certain -- the third-year Irish coach will have a few extra concoctions in the playbook, thanks to an offseason visit with the University of West Virginia coaching staff. Incidentally the Mountaineers laid a season-high 38 points on the Georgia Tech defense in the Gator Bowl last January. And, oh yeah, don’t expect an official announcement from Weis on who emerges No. 1 until, say, that particular quarterback runs out to the offensive huddle on Sept. 1.
Kicking becomes an afterthought. Of all the areas on the team where there are tight position battles (quarterback, running back, fullback, third receiver, right guard, outside linebacker, right defensive end, right cornerback), kicker is the one where Weis is not dealing from a position of strength, or at least known strength.
Freshmen grow up fast. In some programs playing freshmen is a sign of desperation at worst, rebuil – I mean the “R” word at best. But not in the Weis regime at Notre Dame. It’s a touchstone of strength.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
First, the talent is being continually upgraded. Second, Weis and his staff aren’t afraid to play freshmen and have a penchant for getting them ready early. It’s quite possible more than half of the 18-man class will see action this season, including quarterback Clausen, kicker Walker, running backs Armando Allen and Robert Hughes, wide receivers Duval Kamara and Golden Tate, tight end Mike Ragone, nose tackle Ian Williams, outside linebacker Kerry Neal, and safety Harrison Smith.
No mood swings. When Weis is confident, he can’t hide it. Well maybe in his words he can, but not in his demeanor. A rebuilt offensive line, pegged as a liability to the unenlightened, is once source of contentment, and at times even giddiness. Now if the defense makes him smile, look out.
Power trip. Allen is the kind of speed back the Irish have had trouble corralling in recent recruiting cycles, and he will be a factor, but the predominant Notre Dame running game identity, as it cycles back into vogue, is power. Travis Thomas, James Aldridge, and Hughes will give Weis plenty of options along with spring game surprise hero Junior Jabbie.
Avoiding the cliché. It seems that whenever the Irish party line gets too robotic, too rehearsed, it means they’re way too tight to win. “We’re working on fundamentals and techniques” is simply a more boring way to say, “This is a rebuilding year” or at least a rebuilding week.
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