Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com®
August 14, 2001
POSITION SWITCHES AND A PLEASANT SURPRISE EMERGE
By The IrishEyes.Com NewsService
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE) – Bob Davie said initial assignments weren't written in stone and some freshmen will appear at new positions in their second day of practice on Tuesday. But three young running backs will be staying put—at least for right now.
It was no surprise, but Davie moved Rashon Powers-Neal from free safety where he lined up Monday morning. Davie said he was moving Powers-Neal, who was listed at 6-3, 215 pounds, to outside linebacker. A representative of the Sports Information Department, however, said that Powers-Neal was being moved to strong safety/outside linebacker.
As IrishEyes mentioned after the morning session on Monday, Power-Neal looks like he has the body to play in the front seven.
Davie also switched Quentin Burrell from safety to cornerback. As we reported on Monday, Zack Giles worked out at center and Davie wants him to stay there. Davie also has designated Darin Mitchell as a center.
Neither Giles nor Mitchell have played center, but Davie wants to mold a backup to Jeff Faine, who could be a real standout. Both Giles and Mitchell are listed at 6-4 and 285 pounds. (By the way, Faine was one of several upperclassmen who visited the practice field for Monday afternoon's session.)
While Davie made those switches, running backs coach Desmond Robinson (we erred Monday in referring to him as Desmond Howard—gad, we just can't get that catch out of our minds) had reason to smile.
It's not uncommon for Robinson, or any running backs coach to begin coaching a talented athlete and then see him grabbed by the defense to help out and bolster a secondary. A prime example was years ago when Lou Holtz took Jeff Burris and turned him into a fine defensive back. Todd Lyght is still thanking the gods for his switch from running back to defensive back, which has given him extended life in the NFL. Most recently, Vontez Duff has a chance to make an impact in this year's Irish secondary.
So, Robinson breathed a sigh of relief when Davie said that all three freshmen running backs will continue to practice there, even after the upperclassmen begin practice with the frosh on Thursday. There was reason to wonder. Marcus Wilson, listed at 5-11 and 180, looks nimble and quick enough to try out at corner. And Grant Ryan and Cory Jones, both 6-1 or over, possibly could be groomed for strong safety or outside backer.
With three experienced, talented running backs returning, you wouldn't need them in the backfield—this season, anyway. Davie, Robinson and pre-season pundits have showered accolades on the potential of the Irish backfield this season. Terrance Howard got plenty of reps in spring practice while Tony Fisher and Julius Jones, both potential standouts, gritted out the spring on the sidelines, worked hard during the summer and are ready to vie for the starting spot.
That would seem to leave the freshmen in limbo, but Davie says he is adamant about finding the best among the three.
"There was discussion about Cory Jones being a defensive back or linebacker, Marcus Wilson being a defensive back and, certainly, Ryan Grant can play a different position," Davie said. "But we're going to keep all three at tailback, because we need to find a tailback. We have two seniors and a junior returning and, as you know, it's difficult to recruit when you have those kinds of young players playing for you the last couple of years.
"The timing is right now for a tailback (to emerge). We're recruiting some tailbacks, but these guys we have right now, we need to find a tailback from this group." Davie said it's far too early to evaluate the three young running backs; and little will be known until the pads are slapped on and contact is made
. "You're always looking for a difference maker," Davie said, "but it's hard to tell until you get the pads on and until you scrimmage. There's been a lot of guys look good when you're playing basketball on grass. You just don't know until you put the pads on, but we want to give these guys an opportunity to learn what to do so that when we put the pads on them we will be able to evaluate them.
"The No. 1 priority is protecting the football and securing the football, and you don't know how that's going to go until they get tackled," Davie continued. "We're going to keep those three guys there, and it will work itself out. We do need to find a tailback out of this group."
That's just fine with Robinson.
Before Davie spoke on the subject, IrishEyes asked Robinson if there was any defensive potential among his three new studies. "I don't want to discover another cornerback," Robinson demurred. "Please don't put the idea in anybody's head."
THE STANDOUT SO FAR: While Davie says it is far too early to make evaluations on this freshmen crop, the most pleasant surprise has come from a local source. He is Jeff Thompson, listed at 6-5 and 265pounds, recruited out of powerhouse Penn High School and from nearby Granger, Ind.
It's far too early to tell if Thompson will mature into a mainstay along the D-line, but he's already made his mark as a long snapper.
"The biggest positive of the whole thing right now is Jeff Thompson and his role as a deep snapper," Davie said. "Something that he's shown is that he has tremendous velocity on the ball and it also looks like he will protect like we want him to protect."
Davie said Thompson was a deep snapper on punts for Penn, but couldn't be evaluated because his high school squad "punted only once."
POOCH PUNTS: Donald Dykes, who pleaded guilty recently to a misdemeanor in connection with a charge of criminal trespass, apparently won't lose any playing time. Davie said Dykes is in good standing and will report to practice with the rest of the upperclassmen on Thursday.
"He's going to start practice on Thursday just like everyone else," Davie said. "We're fine."...
Linebackers coach Kirk Doll played at the drop position much of the time during passing skills drills in Monday afternoon's session, and Davie got a kick out of it.
Asked to assess the first day of practice for the freshmen, Davie replied: "I'm a little worried about our offense because Kirk Doll lined up and played drop backer for the whole passing skill. We didn't complete a ball, so it makes me nervous. He played a lot of man-to-man on the tight end and snuffed him out three times in a row and I know Kirk Doll is not that athletic."