Spring Practice Begins

<P>Monday was the start of Notre Dame football spring practice. On a windy day, the Irish had their first practice of spring and the Irish seemed happy to be back on the field. The Irish spent most of the day going over basic formations and defense but the enthusiasm was present.</P>

The Irish started practice as they always do warming up with each position coach working with his players. The offense then got together for formations and the defense got together for formations and lane drills.

Safety Glenn Earl has been an impact player since his sophomore year and he will be counted on as a leader for the Irish secondary. Earl said the Irish didn't do a great deal today but it felt great getting back out there. "It was basically just hitting the ground running," he said. "We just had two defenses today and we were trying to get everything perfect. Everyone was out there comfortable and buzzing around so it was a good feeling."

The secondary will be minus inspirational leaders Shane Walton and Gerome Sapp. Earl will have to be a leader in the secondary. Earl said he is prepared for that role. "I have been talking to the coaching staff about that," said Earl. "It's obvious I need to be more vocal and pick up the slack after losing two leaders in the secondary. I am more of a quiet and laid back person so I need to become more vocal out there on the field."

The Irish secondary played with a great deal of confidence last year and that attitude was contagious throughout the team. Earl said that secondary will play with the same passion and to expect much of the same in 2003. "It's just building on what we've done. We have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football. We just want to continue with the tradition we started last year. We have guys like myself, Vontez (Duff) and Jason (Beckstrom). Jason has played a lot. We have some big shoes to fill in losing Gerome (Sapp) and Shane (Walton) but we're confident we can pick up the slack and be just as good, if not better than last year."

Earl did play strong safety in the Navy game and some have wondered if he might switch to playing strong safety this year. "Garron's (Bible) the strong safety. We have got some depth at strong safety, we have got some guys who can play. I'm not worried about that. Who knows what will happen when we game plan and we go against different schemes but I am pretty confident that I will be a free safety most of the time."

Corner Jason Beckstrom will return this year after sitting out last year and Earl is glad to have him back. "It helps us out a lot. Maybe it was kind of a blessing because now you have a great corner out there. He's been playing since he was a freshman. We're not missing a beat. He stepped right in, he knows his stuff. He's proven that he is a great player and I am glad to have him back. I feel real comfortable lining up next to him out there."

The Irish will be missing some linebackers this spring but Earl sees this as a great opportunity to develop depth at the position. "It will definitely help. Whenever you can get some of the younger guys more reps, they gain confidence. We want to be a deep team. We want to be able to play a lot of guys during a game and not miss a beat. That is how you dominate teams. I'm sure I would like to see Mike (Goolsby) and Courtney (Watson) get some reps but these guys are out there working hard and it will only help the team."

Important observations today were starting tailback Ryan Grant sitting out of practice. Corey Mayes did practice but was wearing a red jersey as was Glenn Earl. Not seen at practice were Gary Godsey, Mike Goolsby or Courtney Watson although they could have been wearing street clothes.

The Irish are very thin at the linebacker spot for spring. Today the Irish lined up with Jerome Collins playing outside, Derek Curry playing the middle and Brandon Hoyte playing the Will position. The starting front four were Kyle Bundiscak, Darrell Campbell, Cedric Hilliard and Justin Tuck.

Other positions of note were Travis Leitko playing with the second team at defensive end. Jason Beckstrom lined up as the starting corner opposite Vontez Duff with Glenn Earl and Garron Bible playing safety.

The second team defensive backfield consisted of Preston Jackson and Dwight Ellick (red jersey) at corner and Quentin Burrell and Lionel Bolen at the safety spots.

The Irish are thin at tailback as well with Grant out. Rashon Powers-Neal was sporting the new number 16 jersey and is listed as a fullback. Nate Shiccatano is also listed as a fullback leaving Marcus Wilson and Jeff Jenkins as the only two scholarship running backs practicing today.

The Irish practice again on Tuesday and Irish Eyes will be there following the team.

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