The offensive line has been the buzzword all throughout spring. Willingham knows how difficult it will be to replace Jeff Faine. "You only get Jeff Faine's a couple of times in your career so it was nice to have him even though short lived but it was still nice to have him," said Willingham. "We're just working and improving and trying to get better. We've got Zach Giles and Bobby Morton right now that are the primary competitors for that job and they are learning and growing and hopefully getting a lot better each day."
Former defensive lineman Jeff Thompson was seen early working out at offensive center but Willingham said he is going to focus on playing guard this spring. "I think we have positioned Jeff primarily at the guard. It might be a little much to try to expose him to both of those at this time because of with the transition of coming over from the defense it's difficult sometimes to understand all the things you have to do. The real specifics of the position, it does take some time to acquire.
While Notre Dame might be thin along the offensive line, it will have plenty of experience on defense and Willingham sees that as a real positive. "There is no substitute for experience. That is what so many of those guys bring to the table. They bring the presence of knowing certain things and knowing how to deal with certain things. The most important thing with any of our fifth-year players or any of our players is not that they come back, it's that you come back better. That is what this spring is all about for all of our guys, to re-establish foundations and to improve on the player they've already demonstrated—in many cases—as very good.
One player Willingham singled out as the glue to this defense is Courtney Watson. Willingham knows how important Watson is his to his team. "Last year I said this, I thought that really the primary person in terms of our comfort level was Courtney. His ability to really stabilize things and to keep everybody under control and dictate where people needed to be was done by Courtney Watson and Gerome Sapp."
Marcus Wilson has been very limited this spring and Ryan Grant has been out recovering from shoulder surgery. Willingham remains steadfast in his belief that the next player will have to step up. "At some point, somebody is going to be injured, somebody will be missing for one reason or another and you expect the next guy to step up and perform better. That's what we will expect in this case. The young guys, a (Nate) Schiccatano and Jeff Jenkins will have to step up and play well."
Willingham seems focused on the fundamentals this spring. His team begins each practice working on the fundamentals. His mission has been to fix the little things that seemed to break down last year. Expect that to continue but as the spring progresses, the Irish will likely focus more on their scheme. The Irish will be looking for answers along the offensive line but those answers might not become clear until the fall.
Gary Godsey participate more in practice today than he has this spring. Godsey was seen in a jersey and helmet early in practice. He won't be working out with the team but that is a good sign that he could be ready by fall camp.
Defensive tackle Darrell Campbell worked out with a brace on his knee. The brace didn't seem to bother Campbell, as he was always first in every drill as Irish Eyes is accustomed to seeing each practice. He should be fine.
Marcus Wilson participated more today than he had last week. He appears to be closer to getting back into action.
Irish Eyes spoke with Ryan Grant after practice and Grant said he would be fully recovered from shoulder surgery and ready to go when fall camp begins.