Notre Dame, IN (UHND.com) – Charlie Weis’s initial press conference of the 2007 spring football season centered around two main themes – the health of the team and the plethora of opportunities and positions that are up for grabs.
Unlike a season ago, Notre Dame will enter spring ball completely healthy. “Everyone is full speed, and no one has any limitations with the exception of a couple guys who maybe will have a cast on their wrist or something. That will not limit them from any football activities,” Weis told the media ending speculation that surfaced Tuesday regarding the health of freshman Jimmy Clausen.
A Chicago Sun Times article quoting Clausen’s father said the younger Clausen had an arm injury that could limit his action this spring, but Weis cleared the air surrounding the uber-recruit rather bluntly. “Contrary to recent reports, he’s full go, too,” Weis would say, before adding, “By the way, just so we can clear that one up, the only one who will answer for the health of our players will be me. So next time, we can just keep it that way, because I’ll do the answering for the health of our players.”
Aside from the Clausen injury rumors there are a number of players coming back from injuries who are expected to do some big things this year such as junior receiver DJ Hord. “Physically, he’s healthy. You’ve just got to break through those mental barriers and be set and ready to go,” Weis said of his talented but oft-injured wide receiver.
Fellow receiver David Grimes, the only wide out on the Irish roster with significant game experience, is also coming off an injury, albeit a minor one. Weis addressed Grimes health by saying, ‘From what I saw right before spring break, I have very high expectations.”
Weis also confirmed a couple of position changes which have been widely discussed across the internet this off-season with Travis Thomas officially moving back to running back and Chris Stewart moving from the offensive line to defensive tackle.
The other hot topic, of course, was the much anticipated quarterback race. Weis didn’t get into too many specifics, but he said his main goal of the spring will be to make this four horse race a two horse race heading into the fall. “I would hope to get from four to two. That’s what I would hope to get.”
Quarterback isn’t the only wide open position either, and even though as Weis stated, “I’m going to be heavily almost exclusively involved with the quarterback position,” he addressed plenty of other positions where playing time is up for grabs this spring.
Sticking on the offensive side of the ball, Notre Dame will be replacing a two time 1,000 yard rusher with the departure of Darius Walker. The Irish will have the luxury of replacing Walker with a backfield loaded with more talent than any Notre Dame backfield since the Holtz Era. Weis acknowledged the talent he has to work with at running back when asked if we’d see multiple backs this year. “Are you asking me if I only see one running back playing? No, I think we have too much depth.”
Moving over to the defensive side the ball, there’ll be even more opportunities for playing time with the installation of the new 3-4 defense. Unlike a year ago though, Weis won’t be spending much time on the defensive side of the ball. “That’s why I hired Corwin. I’m not going to be spending a lot of time on the field worrying about the defense other than when the offense is going against the defense,” Weis said of his new defensive coordinator.
When it comes to the new 3-4 defense, Weis explained, “You have more position flexibility in this scheme. That’s why it’s become en vogue in the NFL recently and more and more teams are going to it.”
One defensive player Weis singled out as fitting into the new defense much better was sophomore outside linebacker John Ryan. A season ago Ryan backed up Victor Abiamiri at defensive end, but as Weis said, “now he’s an outside linebacker, and at 6’4”, 6’5”, 245 pounds, he’s your prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker.”
Weis also discussed how the new 3-4 defense will change what types of players will fill in along the defensive line. Trevor Laws, who will be returning for a 5th season, will move from the inside to the defensive end position in the 3-4. “You want guys like, you know, Trevor is 295 or somewhere in that neighborhood. I mean, guys that can play against those big old tackles when you’re lining up against those tackles a whole bunch of times.”
The underlying theme throughout Weis’s roughly 45 minute press conference Wednesday, however, was opportunity – “With several key players lost to graduation, it provides a great venue for both competition and opportunity for anyone who has been waiting in the wings or is new to the program.”