Irish Back in the Sun

<P>The Irish were able to practice outside today and the bright sun seemed to lift the spirits of the Irish players. The team was dressed in full pads again and a lot of talking amongst the players could be heard in anticipation of the hitting that would be coming soon. </P>

Coach Tyrone Willingham was also happy to take his team outside again. "It was good to back outside," said Willingham. "The natural surface hopefully doesn't have as much wear and tear on our young men. I thought things moved well today."

Irish Eyes spoke with Carlyle Holiday today and he said that the coaching staff has really stressed the importance of getting rid of the ball quicker. Willingham agreed and talked about what they hope to do with all their quarterbacks. "That is one of the areas as Carlyle mentioned that we are focusing on and not just with him but all our quarterbacks. A lot of that comes with them understanding the system. The more you've been in the system, the more you understand how everything fits in. Where #1 (read) is and when #1 (read) is not there, you know exactly where #2 (read) is and it eliminates a great waste of time. They become more efficient in understanding the system and with the push that we are placing on that, get the ball out on time rhythm—which is all a part of this offensive system—he's doing a good job."

Willingham also spoke about Holiday's leadership role and what he expects out of his starting quarterback. "He's done a good job with our football team at the line of scrimmage so that has not been a problem. He'll get better with time but we don't place leadership as a senior quality. We want leaders to come from anywhere on this football team. As a quarterback, it's a position of natural leadership. When you become a quarterback, because you give the cadence, because you give all the directions, you become a natural leader. Once he learns more about the system, which he is doing, he'll be able to express the natural leadership that just comes from the position.

Holiday was hurt more than once last year and Willingham was asked if there was anything he could be doing to become more durable next year. "No," Willingham said. "He works extremely hard in the weight room. He does all the things physically to have himself prepared to be a physical player at his position. I think some of the things that happened to him were just unfortunate. Hopefully we'll improve as a team and prevent some of those shots he takes."

The Irish have had a year in the system and the team seems to be more comfortable with it. Willingham says that is to be expected. "I think it's a natural process," said Willingham. "I think that each year that were in the system, each year that a guy has to practice the same play—with modifications to each play of course—he becomes more comfortable. We know that we get better, all of us do with everything we do and that is no different from our players in having the rhythm and understanding our system."

Having another year in the system will be very valuable to for the offense. Willingham is hoping that comfort level will show up in the chemistry between his quarterback and receivers. "Well hopefully it will show itself in the spacing and knowing how to maneuver, how to set things up and how to compliment another receiver. With what you can do in different situations that arise, that you know exactly the adjustment. Hopefully with the time that they've been together, then you start to understand when Omar sees something, Carlyle sees the same thing. They're going to be on (the same) page to make the same adjustment and that just comes with time."

The media has focused mainly on the offensive side of the ball. Offensive line, the injured tailbacks and the progress of Holiday have been big topics this spring. Irish Eyes asked Willingham if he has been pleased with the play of his defense this spring. " I've been pleased but I always say this about any aspect of our team that returns. When you have players come back, they have to come back better and that's whether they are a freshman, sophomore, junior it doesn't matter. You've got to come back better, just coming back is not enough. I don't know how much improvement Michigan will have; I don't know how much improvement Washington State will have, Purdue or Michigan State. So what we've got to do, we've got to get better, we can't imagine ourselves maintaining the status quo. If our defense comes back a better defense, I'm excited. If our offense comes back a better offense, if our special teams come back a better special teams, then I'm excited about that. If not, I'm not excited."

The end of the Irish 2002 season was not the ending Willingham would've liked. Willingham was asked if there were any lingering effects from the North Carolina State loss. "No, I don't think so," said Willingham. "I think we know that as a football team we didn't live up to what we'd hoped and expected but at the same time, 10-3 is a good season. That is a good start for us, now we need to catapult that a little higher."

Justin Tuck sat out of practice today. He was in street clothes wearing a sling over his shoulder early but was on the stationary bike during most of practice. "He is injured and I would say if we were going to scrimmage or have a game tomorrow, he would be doubtful," said Willingham on Tuck's status.

Irish Notes

Marcus Wilson practiced a little more than he had in previous practices. Ryan Grant was seen working out with a big weight plate lifting it over his head—that should be considered a good sign.

Gary Godsey was seen catching balls today with the tight ends and receivers.

Justin Tuck sat out practice today working out on a stationary bike. Irish Eyes has learned that his injury doesn't appear to be serious, it will not impact his readiness for the fall and he could be back this spring. Top Stories