The first order of business was to clarify the status of senior quarterback turned wide receiver Carlyle Holiday. "The word has not come back yet whether a fifth year has been granted or not," said Diedrick. "If that were to be granted Carlyle will come back as a receiver."
The move of Holiday could put the Irish in a similar situation as to last year. If Quinn becomes injured, the Irish could be looking at Dillingham as the starter or a true freshman again. Diedrick knows he has another quick teaching job to do with the two freshmen quarterbacks. "I think it's going to have be something very similar as what we tried to do with Brady Quinn in trying to get these kids prepped up. I think they'll both come in and have an opportunity to compete for the backup role and to be prepared as possible."
The Irish struggled on offense early in the season and struggled against most of the better teams they played. We asked Diedrick why he felt the Irish struggled. "Anytime you are going to struggle and are going to be inconsistent up front it's going to show all around. I think up to the first four games we were very, very inconsistent and really didn't have a great deal of continuity. I think a lot of that had to do with the struggling up front, but I also think it was an across the board type thing."
"Carlyle struggled," Diedrick continued. "He probably didn't make the gains that we thought he did. We weren't very consistent in catching the football. I think it took some time for even the running backs to get going. I think that can be directly or indirectly related to what you are struggling with up front in terms of protection, run blocking, whatever. It was a full thing across the board. As the season progressed, I think we got a lot better in many areas."
The Irish will return four out of five starting offensive linemen for 2004 which should help the offense. With the loss of Molinaro, we asked Diedrick if they will likely switch Ryan Harris to left tackle. "I think that will be something we'll consider. I'd rather lose one than five. It's a little bit different situation this year with having experience up front and with guys having played different positions. We can kind of look at some different possibilities. It gives us much more flexibility and is a much better situation."
With the experience up front, we asked Diedrick if he might make some changes to the offense or blocking schemes for next season. "As you go through the season and you evaluate it, you go back and you look at the films, I think it really gives you an idea of really what you feel you can be good at. Whether that's blocking schemes or how you attack people, I think we have a much clearer idea than we did a year ago."
Ryan Grant is in line as a starter at running back. It appeared that Grant was not very patient while running the football last year. We asked Diedrick where Grant needed to improve to become a better back. "I think that's the one thing running backs have to do, they have to be patient. I don't think that was one area where Ryan was very effective in a year ago. Whether he was pressing for whatever reason, it was very obvious. I hope that now he kind of becomes the leader of that group and takes charge and be the emotional leader of that group."
Another player waiting to show his stuff and running back is freshman Travis Thomas. The scuttlebutt has been that Thomas is quite an impressive running back—Diedrick agrees. "I don't think there's any question that Travis Thomas is not only a very talented young man but also possesses that great work ethic and that desire to really excel. He's very demanding of himself. I think he's got all the talents that we look for in a running back. I think he's got good hands, he's got a great burst, and has that ability to make people miss. He's also a very physical back running inside."
The Irish appeared to have found a deep threat at the end of the year in Matt Shelton. Diedrick says he's very pleased with the dedication Shelton is showing this off-season to contribute to the team. "Matt Shelton stepping up towards the end of the year was a very pleasant surprise. It was something we were kind of hoping for all along. The way he's working this off-season I think is an understanding that he played really well towards the end of the season, and I think that he feels that he's got an opportunity to really contribute and have a role on our football team."
We also asked Diedrick to assess the rest of his receiving corps. "Rhema is probably the charismatic leader. He's probably the most consistent in the group and should make a lot of plays for us. I think Maurice definitely has to step up and become a lot more consistent if he's going to reach the areas that we feel he's capable of. I also think they other exciting thing is the young receivers and what they can bring to the group. The young players should make an impact this year."
We are now three years into the Diedrick offense. The results last year were not what anyone would've liked. We asked Diedrick if he felt this would be the year his offense finally started to come together. "I would hope so. I think we've given Brady a year under his belt, a year to grow. I think you look at some other guys that all of the sudden are stepping up and maybe having a little fuller cast of players that we can fit into roles. With the offensive front now being experienced, I think maybe we'll have a breath of fresh air and maybe do some things that we've wanted to do from day one."
The Irish will have to show marked improvement on offense in 2004 if they want to win more games this year. The Irish lose some key players on defense and the offense will be counted on to carry their weight. The good news is the experience along the offensive line will certainly help their cause. They should have all the components in place to have a potent offense.