Notre Dame, IN (UHND.com) – When Charlie Weis officially kicked off spring practice on Friday, he opened by outlining his four main objectives for the spring. Unlike past years when Weis may have used cliché’s or slogans, this year Weis laid out tangible goals he hopes to accomplish over the course of the 15 allotted practices the Irish will have over the next month. Fixing the problems from last year’s disappointing campaign and meshing a coaching staff which has undergone dramatic changes this off-season highlighted his goals.
Meshing the New Coaching Staff
Weis’s first objective for spring ball this season will be to mesh a coaching staff which features three new additions on top of multiple changes in roles and responsibilities. Gone are John Latina, Jappy Oliver, and Mike Haywood and in are Frank Verducci, Randy Hart, and Tony Alford. Throw in Weis’s new role as offensive coordinator, Corwin Brown’s new role of associate head coach, and Jon Tenuta’s new responsibilities of calling the defensive plays and you have quite a different coaching staff than the one that ended the 2008 season. (Check out our article last week for a full recap of the off-season changes to the coaching staff)
Getting all of the coaches and players comfortable with the new staff and all of the new roles was the first objective mentioned by Weis because of its importance. “One of our objectives in the spring time is to get that all worked out and meshed so as we go into training camp and into the season, everyone’s set and ready to go,” said Weis Friday.
Self Scouting/Fixing the Running Game
Weis’s second objective was to self scout. “Every year we spend an in depth amount of time analyzing what we did well and what we didn’t do well, both on an X and O version, and mentally as well,” said Weis.
Coming off back to back seasons in which the Irish went a combined a 10-16 there are plenty of areas in which to self scout and seek improvements, but the primary area Weis focused on was fixing the ailing Irish running game. “We’ve identified as one of the things we really want to work on right off the bat offensively is our running game,” Weis explained.
There’s been a lot of talk over the past few seasons about the physicality in Notre Dame’s practice and how the lack of physicality could be one of the reasons for the struggles in the running game the Irish have experienced. Based on Weis’s comments Friday it seems as though part of the self scouting process has determined that Notre Dame needs to be more physical in practice.
“You get a little frustrated in these first two days because when you go with no pads on, (because) to work on your running game, that just doesn’t mesh too well,” explained Weis in his opening remarks. “But I think that come Monday, there will be a high level of hitting on both sides of the ball very early in training camp – very early in the spring,” he added.
It doesn’t sound as though the staff plans on easing into getting physical in practice once hitting is allowed either. “This isn’t something that we’re going to be easing into because both offensively and defensively we’ve identified that as things that are going to make a difference between us winning and losing.”
Fixing the Notre Dame running game is going to take a lot of work this off-season and the self scouting Weis and his staff have done this off-season will determine what kind of success the Irish offense will have. There was a renewed focus on running the football last year as well, but the results just weren’t there.
The third objective outlined by Weis was outright competition. Notre Dame will have its deepest and most talented roster since Weis has taken over. Outside of the fifth year seniors, all of the players on the roster this year were all part of highly touted recruited classes – recruiting classes which now comprise the vast majority of the Notre Dame roster. “I think (for) some of these guys it’s time for them to step up,” said Weis.
With several players slated for serious playing time this fall limited in spring practice, the door is also open for some of the older players who have yet to make their mark and the younger players looking to make theirs to step up and earn some playing time. “You know, we’ve got some of these guys in italics that can’t go full speed. We’ve got potential fifth year guys we’re talking about,” Weis explained.
For some of these players on the roster – players such as Morrice Richardson, Scott Smith, John Ryan, and other members of Weis first full recruiting class – this spring may be their last spring and their window of opportunity is closing fast. “You’ve got some recruits coming in in the summertime when the reinforcements end up getting here. Some of these guys it’s their last opportunity to put themselves in the mix,” said Weis.
With projected starters and/or regular contributors such as Darius Fleming, Kerry Neal, Golden Tate, and Trevor Robinson limited this spring for various reasons, there will be plenty of opportunities for players such as Richardson, Smith, Ryan, Paul Duncan, Deion Walker, and plenty of others to earn their places on the depth chart with strong performances heading into fall camp.
Weis’s last objective for the spring was to mature as a team. Over the past few seasons, Notre Dame has been an extremely young team thanks in large part to some rather small recruiting classes at the end of the Tyrone Willingham era. Notre Dame has lacked leadership because there just hasn’t been a strong upper class presence on the roster.
The past few seasons, Notre Dame has relied on more freshman and sophomores than you’d normally like. Heading into 2009, that should not be as much of a problem since those freshman and sophomores from the past few seasons have begun growing up and are now foundation of this team.
Weis specifically mentioned finishing off games as a ancillary goal of this objective. “Part of the maturity objective is finishing the game. I think that we all agree that last year there were games where you have double digit leads. Whether it’s coaching offensive, defensive team – regardless of the combination of reasons – when you have double digit leads in three games you go ahead and let those games get away, the team and coaching staff and everyone have to make sure that finishing the game is the utmost priority. A lot of that comes with the maturity of your team.”
Last season was a prime example of Notre Dame not finishing off games. Against North Carolina, Pitt, and Syracuse, Notre Dame held double digit second half leads yet they lost all three. Those three losses made an enormous difference in Notre Dame’s record. Would there had been any drama at the end of the season regarding the job status of Weis had the Irish held on to win those three games and finished the season 9-3 (even with the egg the Irish laid in Coliseum)?
Weis’s four objectives for the spring will most likely not all be met over the course of just 15 practices, but if he and the staff can make significant progress in each area heading into fall camp; the Irish will be headed in the right direction. Stating objectives is also a lot easier than actually accomplishing them. Weis and his staff have their work cut out for them with each one, but if they can succeed in meeting each objective by the start of the season, Notre Dame will have the opportunity for a promising season.