Irish Practices About to Get Physical

Notre Dame, IN (UHND) – The NCAA doesn’t let teams go full pads for the first two days of spring practice, so the first couple days of practice won’t be all that physical for the Notre Dame players. That will change in a hurry, because as soon as they are allowed to, the Irish will be getting a lot more physical than have in past springs.

“The first two days you can’t wear pads. I call it practice coaching. Until you can put pads on and truly start banging them around,” Weis told the media Wednesday. Once they are allowed to be though, the Irish practices will get a bit more intense.

“I think we will have to take running backs to the ground being we’re going to have to block and tackle,” Weis said. “I think we’ll have to do those things, because without doing those things, at least managed, I think we will leave ourselves short.”

The physicality of practices was a hot topic last season when Weis talked about getting back to basics and getting more physical in practice after the Michigan State loss. According to Weis though, the Irish have always been physical in practice – just not as much as they will be this spring. “We’ve always had physical practices,” Weis explained. “We just didn’t spend as much time taking them to the ground, and I think we will have to spend more time taking them for the ground and that isn’t just for the defense, it’s for offense, too.”

The Irish will be taking players to the ground this spring and only two areas of contact will be off limits – quarterback Jimmy Clausen and offensive linemen won’t be able to cut block.

“I think that’s probably the thing that could ruin our practice the easiest, if something were to happen to him (Clausen). But I think that we are going to have to manage that but at the same time put in plenty of stuff that we are going full speed with everyone but him.”

Potential for injury is also the reason the Irish will not be cut blocking in practice. “You’re not going to cut one of your own players. (Because) the opportunity to lose a guy to a knee, you know, goes up exponentially,” Weis said.

Both exceptions make perfect sense, but the real story is that Notre Dame will be taking players to the ground and that should be music to the ear’s of Notre Dame fans all over.
Far too often last year Notre Dame showed poor tackling techniques and the result was entirely too many broken tackles by opposing running backs and receivers. On the offensive side of the ball, how many times did Notre Dame running backs go down on first contact? The answer is way too many.

A lot of people will tell you that you play the way you practice and not taking players to the ground in the practice has translated into poor tackling by the Irish defense and a lack of big runs by the Irish offense.

A prime example of a player who could have benefited from more physical practices last year is Armando Allen. Allen missed his senior year while recovering from a broken leg and last year always looked like he was a broken tackle or two away from a long run, but never ended up breaking one. In fact, Allen’s longest run all season was just 15 yards. Could getting taken to the ground in practice have resulted in more broken tackles by Allen last year? Probably.

On the defensive side of the ball, one of the few knocks on Darrin Walls game has been his lack of physicality in the running game. Walls whiffed on a number of tackles and got run over a number of times as well. Would taking ball carriers to the ground in practice last season improved his tackling? Likely.

Part of the “lack of physicality” in Weis’s practices prior to this spring comes from his background in the NFL where practice is more about assignments and less about learning the fundamentals. Some will argue that this change should have been made prior to the fourth spring practice of the Weis era, and they are probably right.

What is important about Weis’s change in philosophy here is that he is showing a willingness to change. Many times a coach will let their ego get in their way when it comes to admitting they were wrong or changing their ways.

This is just another example, however, that this is not the case with Weis. Everything Weis has done this off-season from giving up play calling duties to changing his practice philosophies to changing the special teams responsibilities suggests that Weis is willing to step outside his comfort zone in an effort to change and improve as a head coach.

Of course, the first injury that is suffered in practice this spring will likely result in Weis being questioned for being “too physical” across all of the Notre Dame message boards and blogs, but this should be seen as nothing but a positive for more reason than one.

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