Diedrick chuckled when reminded that he was sounding off pretty loud out there today. "Geez, I still have a voice so it couldn't have been too bad," said Diedrick laughingly. "I think that as a team and offensively we picked it up a great deal from where we were a day ago. I think we kind of let the weather beat us down yesterday. I think today our kids worked through it and I was very proud of them. We had a few guys missing and some guys sucked it up and really did a tremendous job out there."
The staff has been inserting a lot of players, including freshmen to get the best idea of who can help them this year. "We're putting a lot of people in there and a lot of freshmen. We're trying to see what the freshmen can do so I think there is a lot happening and sometimes when that happens, the total picture may be a little fuzzy. Yet you look at the individual parts and you really see the improvement--a lot of that I was really please with. As a coach you really appreciate those things because I think the light has come on and guys are really able to work through those things. Maybe a year ago we weren't able to do that."
Diedrick is excited about his running backs and a healthy running game will definitely help the passing game. ‘There's no question about it," said Diedrick about being excited about his running backs. "A healthy Ryan Grant is a great asset. Having Marcus (Wilson) healthy will give him a little bit of a break and having Julius (Jones) added to the mix it really adds an opportunity to interchange them a little bit and it doesn't put the whole load on one guy's shoulders. It also probably takes a few hits away from each of them and hopefully allows them to stay healthy. If we can do that we'll have an effective one, two, three punch."
For the running game to be effective the offensive line will have to do their part. Diedrick says they are improving but still have a ways to go. "I think we're making strides up front but I don't think we're anywhere near where we want to be. We're starting to see the light with some of those guys and they really stepped up today."
The Irish were lucky last year keeping almost all of their offensive linemen healthy in 2002. Dan Stevenson and Sean Milligan were not participating at the end of Thursday's practice and that has to be a scary thought for Diedrick. Diedrick said that having both out gave an opportunity to some other linemen to step in and their performance is what he was really excited about. "You always pray that you stay lucky. You always hope that is one area you stay healthy. It's (offensive line) definitely a question mark for us this season. What it does is allows some guys to step in and get some reps and those were some of the guys I was very proud of today. They showed that they could work through very difficult situations where it was hot, it was humid but they worked through it and they were playing very strong at the end of practice. That will only help us with our depth down the road."
Diedrick says that the staff is really looking for seven to eight players right now along the offensive line. These players will likely see the bulk of the snaps in 2003. "What we're really trying to do right now is finding our best five and trying to get a rotation at guard and at tackle. You're really looking at your top seven to eight guys for the rotation. Another guard and another tackle and one other guy and that is really the rotation you'll work with."
Carlyle Holiday continues to improve in fall camp and Diedrick continues to offer high praise for his starter. Diedrick talked about his quarterbacks and where they stand right now. "With Carlyle, I'm very pleased. I think he's got a very good handle on what we want from him philosophy-wise. I think from a mechanical standpoint he's doing a lot better within the offense. I think he's beginning to step and feel like this is his team which the quarterback has to do."
"Chris (Olsen) finished spring ball very strong. I think we kind of unofficially named him second string with an asterisk. He's competing with Pat (Dillingham) and Brady Quinn. I would say that he's had a good camp but I wouldn't say he's had a great camp. This is still year one and a half for him and he's still kind of learning," said Diedrick of Olsen
"I think Pat has done a good job and I think he's improved a great deal over the summer. I think he was probably disappointed with his play at the end of the spring and really stepped it up and he's challenging Chris right now pretty good," said Diedrick of Dillingham.
"Brady was here during spring ball and over the summer. I think he really did a great job of preparing himself so the offense wasn't foreign to him and it gave him a rolling start. I've been very, very pleased with how he has come in and handled himself. He's really stepped into the huddle and performed. He's played well at times and is making some mistakes but he's been working through it and looks very solid. He has a lot of questions and some puzzlement but you always expect that with a young guy," said Diedrick of Quinn.
Holiday has had his share of injuries so developing a solid backup is important. Diedrick thinks he will have at least one player by the end of fall camp that he feels real comfortable with inserting into a game. "The best thing for those three guys is that they're all sharing reps and they're all competing against each other. We should come out of camp with one backup or even two or three backups that you don't feel too bad about putting into the game."
Irish Eyes has had the chance to see a lot of the wide receivers at practice. We cannot remember a time when the Irish had this much depth and talent at the wide receiver position. Every player appears to have really improved their strength, speed and quickness. Omar Jenkins in particular has looked outstanding and sure looks to have added some speed to his game. "Omar stepped up and has really kind of taken over the role of Arnaz Battle," said Diedrick. "He really worked extremely hard over the summer and you can tell he's a lot quicker and a lot faster than a year ago. Both Rhema (McKnight) and Maurice (Stovall) have grown quite a bit. They've put a lot of weight on and have improved their speed and stamina. Those young pups know what it takes now and are playing very well. The other two surprises have been Ronnie Rodamer and Matt Shelton. Ronnie has been consistent in his play and is making plays and Matt Shelton really stepped it up. He had some real nice plays today and has excellent speed. I'm very comfortable with the veterans right now."
The four freshmen that have reported also look very impressive. All four appear to have the talent to play early and often at Notre Dame. "You look at Chase Anastasio and Ambrose Wooden; they've got great speed, great quicks. I think they are both kind of making that adjustment but they have a lot of talent. I think that Chin (Chinedum Ndukwe) and Jeff (Samardzija) have looked very, very smooth and very good. I'm very pleased with how our freshmen look. What we had intended coming out of camp was that one or maybe even two might earn a position to be in a role of playing time.
Diedrick's offense last year didn't seem to challenge defenses like many of the west coast offenses we watch every Saturday. His offense didn't seem to stretch the field vertically and horizontally and make defenses defend the whole field. Our theory has been that Diedrick really only had about 50 percent of his offense to call upon and simply didn't have time to include the rest of his playbook. "Do I get to grade you," asked Diedrick of our theory. "Wrong, it was probably a lot less that 50 percent. That's neither here nor there because you have a big playbook and I don't think you ever utilize the whole thing in any given year. You always take parts of it and certain packages and you really try to emphasize to the strength of your personnel. I think with our personnel this year, we will probably be a little more balanced this year. We'll have the ability the do a lot of things that you say and I don't think there's any question about that. I'm really excited about the opportunity to start, not free-wheeling but being able to do some more things."
It was obvious that Diedrick is starting to get excited about his offense. There is plenty of work to be done, especially along the offensive line. Still, one gets the sense that Diedrick is pushing his unit hard (and he was) because he knows this unit is very close to becoming an effective offense.