Irish are springing forward with attitude
New intensity at spring practice is something new for Notre Dame
Irish QB Jimmy Clausen has never seen the type of attitude in Notre Dame's players that they are showing at this year's spring practice.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Poor Brandon Walker. Like he didn't endure enough last season.
Don't think this situation, this pressure-packed moment, wasn't as important as all those missed field goals last fall. Before Saturday's controlled spring scrimmage, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis laid it all out for Walker in a team meeting.
It's October, the ball is at the 25-yard line and the Irish need a field goal to beat USC. Make it, and practice ends. Miss it, and everyone runs about 500 yards in line drills.
So the guy who missed 10 field goals last year, whose inconsistency was a microcosm of Notre Dame's hit and miss 2008 season, stepped up and nailed a 42-yarder right down the middle. And it may as well have been October the way he was mobbed by teammates.
"In the three years I've been here," said Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, "I've never seen it like this."
This is far from your typical spring drills across the college football landscape. Spring is a time for young guys to make a move and veterans to sharpen skills and not get hurt.
Yet there was Notre Dame, six practices into spring drills -- and only the third in pads -- banging and brawling for their ever-loving football lives. Play by play, position by position.
"We saw what we could be that last time we stepped on the field," said guard Eric Olsen. "That kind of shook up everyone; made them realize we have to play with that intensity every time out."
Let's not undersell that last time out, when Notre Dame rolled Hawaii for its first bowl win since Jan. 1, 1994. Considering all the Irish had been through in 2008, this team could've easily tanked in a meaningless bowl game--instead of setting the tone for 2009.
Better teams have gone to paradise recently and lost, including Alabama, Arizona State and Michigan State. Big East champion Cincinnati finished its regular season at Hawaii, and had to score 19 points in the last 10:27 to win.
So when Notre Dame scored the most points in the bowl season with a 49-21 win, when Clausen hit 22-of-26 passes (four were dropped) for 401 yards and five touchdowns, when the Irish shut it down in the fourth quarter instead of scrambling to find a way to win like Cincinnati had to, it was obvious something clicked with this team.
"They got a taste of what it can be," Weis said. "Now let's see what happens going forward."
If this spring is any indication, the Irish could make a significant jump this fall. The offense looks crisp, despite not having starting wideouts Michael Floyd (quad injury), Golden Tate (baseball) and Duvall Kamara (hamstring) -- what will be one of the nation's best groups -- available.
There's more athleticism on defense -- specifically, the front four -- than in any of Weis' previous four seasons. All of those highly-rated recruiting classes are beginning to pay off.
Redshirt freshman Kapron Lewis-Moore hasn't played a down but is the projected starter at one defensive end and already has made an impact this spring. He and Ethan Johnson, who played well in spots last year as a freshman, give the Irish what they haven't had under Weis: quick speed off the edge in pass rush situations. And they're two guys who have the size to physically bang with anyone.
One-time mega-recruit Toryan Smith has had a big offseason and likely will nail down the middle linebacker spot. That gives the Irish more speed at a critical position and allows Brian Smith, the unit's best player last year as a freshman, to move to his more natural weakside spot where he can be more disruptive. Those moves also mean Manti Te'o, the nation's No.1 defensive recruit, likely will start at the strongside linebacker.
Cornerback Darrin Walls, who missed last fall for personal reasons, has returned in better shape than when he showed dynamic ability as a sophomore starter in 2007. He and Robert Blanton, another huge recruit who played extensively last fall as a freshman, will significantly upgrade the secondary.
"At every position, everyone wants it badly," Olsen said.
Early in Saturday's practice, before the controlled scrimmage and before Walker made the field goal that eliminated the sprints, another individual battle told the story of this spring.
They call it Irish Eyes: player vs. player, at the point of attack. Lewis-Moore was toying with more experienced offensive linemen, and one particular matchup with Johnson and senior offensive tackle Sam Young had both interior lines screaming at the show. "It gets more exciting, more intense, with each practice," Johnson said.
It's not like the past, all right.
© 2013 Sporting News
Lingering questions were answered emphatically by the 2012 team, but 2013 is an all-new season that brings all-new question marks. Brian Kelly feels fairly confident his offense is in a great position to take a step forward, but to do that, they’ll need the services of some under-the-radar players.