Irish Impress on First Day

The Notre Dame football team took the field yesterday and the Irish appeared anxious to get the 2003 season under way. The results of hard work in the summer were clearly present among many of the Irish players and some freshmen also impressed Irish Eyes on the first day the media was allowed to attend.

Practice began normally with each position coach working with their unit. The quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends then went through their first passing drills of the day. Coach Trent Miles tried to slow down one of his future stars "Chase (Anastasio), slow down, we haven't stretched yet." "You can't slow down a gazelle," claimed offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick. The mood was light minus a few nervous freshmen.

Quite a few players impressed Irish Eyes on Tuesday. Julius Jones showed the burst we all remember seeing from him. Ryan Grant appears to be a man on a mission and just happy to be playing again. Every current receiver appeared to gain considerable weight and quickness over the summer.

All four freshmen receivers impressed as well. Chinedum Ndukwe appears physically ready to contribute right now. He plays very physical and has a nice set of hands. The Ed McCaffrey comparisons looked accurate for Jeff Samardzija as he looked to move very gracefully and appeared quicker than we thought. Ambrose Wooden looked like any other receiver out there and didn't drop a ball during the drills we saw. He has excellent quickness and should be a factor. Chase Anastasio also appears very quick and shifty. Both Anastasio and Wooden appear a shade smaller than reported.

Rashon Powers-Neal lined up with the first team at fullback and looked to be in excellent shape as did second team fullback Nate Schiccatano. Schiccatano appeared to be the quicker of the two.

Freshmen running backs Travis Thomas and Ashley McConnell both appeared to have worked hard in the weight room over the summer. Thomas has the body to contribute this year. McConnell has a very impressive lower body and some of the biggest calves on the team. Both players showed a nice burst from their position.

Starting quarterback Carlyle Holiday also looked very impressive physically. He had a few jitters out there throwing the ball but looked very comfortable and relaxed. He clearly has become the leader of the offense. Chris Olsen ran with the second team and threw some real nice balls on Tuesday. Freshmen Brady Quinn sported his big arm on a couple of nicely thrown balls and appeared quicker than Olsen at quarterback.

On the defensive side of the ball, Darrell Campbell and Cedric Hilliard certainly looked the part. Both players make everyone look small and appeared to be the leaders of the defense along with Courtney Watson and Duff. Justin Tuck appeared to have gained 20 pounds and still has his quickness.

It was nice to see linebacker Corey Mays back in action. Mays looked to be in far better shape than in the spring and ready for action. Freshman linebacker Mitchell Thomas showed a lot of promise and the cat-quick reflexes that we saw on film but will need to gain a few pounds before he is ready.

Freshman safety Freddie Parish saw a lot of time with the defense and his talent should get him on the field soon. Corner Vontez Duff is clearly the leader of the secondary and Duff also appears to have gained 10 pounds and might be quicker than last year.

Plenty of players impressed Irish Eyes and we can't think of one player that disappointed physically. The 2003 Irish reported in very good shape physically. Expect to hear much more about each player as the week goes on.

Head Coach Tyrone Willingham was all smiles on Tuesday. One can tell that this is the part of the job he enjoys the most. "I thought the young men for the most part did fairly well," said Willingham on his impressions of second day of practice. "It's obvious that they haven't practiced football as a team in a while. There's some things that you just need to take a little bit of the rust off and I think they are starting the process of kind of removing some of that. Day two was a good day."

The first day for the Irish was a testing period. The media was not allowed to attend the first day of practice but Willingham shared his thoughts on the purpose of the testing period. "It's not necessarily the physical condition that they're in but more of the mental condition they're in. It's really a measure of the summation of what they've done over the course of the summer. The test tells you how well they've prepared and how well they've prepared is a mental state of mind."

Willingham thinks his team is in good shape. "So far, based on day one and day two, fairly well," said Willingham on his thoughts of his team's conditioning.

The team has had a full year of practice under Willingham and his staff and he says the team knows what to expect by now. "I think you can just see it in the overall organization of movement of the guys. Understanding what we're about and what we're trying to accomplish. I think there's a definite improvement from one year to the next."

Expectations are high for this Irish squad and even Willingham has raised the bar on his team. "They understand that even though there may have been some good things that were accomplished a year ago, that's not all they wanted, they wanted a lot more. It really comes from everyone's conscience efforts to try to be better than we were."

Justin Tuck has had a year to develop his body and he certainly looks the part. The Irish are hoping that Tuck becomes that dominate pass rusher that they have been lacking. Willingham says he's hoping to see Tuck become more consistent. "What we're hoping that he'll do is realize the talent that he has and really start to equal that level of performance or expectation all the time. That's very difficult for anyone to maintain that level of performance but hopefully he's is moving and doing all the things to move in that direction."

Julius Jones returns to the squad this year after sitting out for academic reasons. Willingham was asked what role he expects Jones to play this year. "That is yet to be defined," said Willingham. "We are excited about having Julius back because we think there's marvelous things he's done in the program before and hopefully there's some things he can add to the program. We'll go through the next couple of weeks and really see what that role is."

Notes

Mike Goolsby sat out all of spring and has been very limited in how much lifting he can do. Irish Eyes caught up with Mike to find out the latest on him. "I don't have the green light for contact yet," said Goolsby. "I'm basically taking it day-to-day, week-to-week and try to see how well I'm going to heal eventually."

Goolsby admits he hasn't been able to participate in much of the summer lifting. "That's more or less what it is. What's keeping me off the field is I haven't had time necessarily in the weight room. I look a lot smaller than I used to. I want to make sure I'm as big as I can get so I can play up to the standards that I can play at."

Goolsby hasn't set any deadline for when the decision will be made if he plays this year or not. "No just yet," said Goolsby of setting a deadline. "I'm constantly talking with the coaches, the trainers, the doctors and my parents. I think its going come down to how strong I can get and what the x-rays show."

Irish Eyes feels that Goolsby won't be available for this year. He hasn't been able to lift and his body isn't in the condition needed to last a full year of football.

The Irish return to practice today at 3:30 PM and Irish Eyes will be there finding the latest scoop.


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