The Irish began practice on Tuesday working with their position coaches. The focus appeared to be on getting into proper position. Each group worked on getting into the proper positioning during certain drills. We watched the defensive backs and linemen to get some thoughts--more on that later. The defensive backs worked on breaking on the ball while in the air. The defensive linemen worked on zone-blitz drops and catching the ball from those drops.
The Irish then went to work as an offensive unit and a defensive unit. The offensive unit lined up as a complete offense—all 11 players. The ball was snapped, the linemen hit a sled and each player ran their specific assignments as the offensive linemen pushed the sled. This was a very vocal drill on offense.
The entire defense also worked as a unit on four different stations. The first was a drill that involved stripping a dummy of the football and recovering a football. The second drill was a tip drill and catching the ball out of the air. The other two drills involved defensive drops and catching the ball.
We've also noticed an increase in enthusiasm this year, but we caution Irish fans that this could be for various reasons. Still, there does seem to be much more noise when the team comes together for various drills.
Coach Tyrone Willingham says he's been pleased with the effort so far in spring practice. "We just come out every day and try to get better," said Willingham. "We will know when it is all said and done and we start getting to Michigan and Michigan State's and teams we'll know if we accomplished all of the goals. But the effort is good and that I can speak to and I can address. The guys seem to work very hard and be enthusiastic about what was taking place on the field."
So when will the Irish start hitting? "Yesterday," Willingham said laughingly. "I say that in jest, the manner in which we practice is very intense every day. Therefore, there has been some major contact even though we are in shorts. It's still contact. I have always said it's very difficult to tell a lineman that you don't have contact no matter what he's in, it's hard. They'll come out there body against body - to me that's contact."
Let us qualify these comments in saying that we never saw any players mentioned playing in live action or contact. Our impressions are our thoughts since we last saw each player and the improvements they've made since the last time we saw them on the practice field.
The first guy on the impressive list has been Victor Abiamiri. The official roster for spring lists Abiamiri at 245, but we believe he has to be at least 255. He also rivals Jerome Collins for the most impressive physique on the team. Abiamiri looks cat-quick out there and a lot bigger. He appears to be thicker than Justin Tuck. He just moves like a natural and he's going to get a lot bigger as the years go by. We don't expect him to be a speed rusher, but more in the mold of Anthony Weaver. Most Irish fans would take another Weaver in a heartbeat.
Another guy who has made the sacrifices in the weight room has been Travis Thomas. Thomas has a better physique than a few juniors and seniors right now. Thomas is listed at 200 on the official depth chart. We'd guess he's at least 210 and he appears as quick as ever. We've only seen him on field turf, however, so take that with a grain of salt. The battle between he and Ryan Grant should be a classic because both players have the kind of work ethic any coach would want. Marcus Wilson could surprise, but we think it will be a Grant/Thomas battle for the lion's share of the carries in the fall. There is no question Travis Thomas wants to be a great one. By the way, Grant looks to be in better shape than he's ever been in, should be a real battle.
We've been a very big Rhema McKnight fan for a long time. McKnight wants to win more than anything. Nobody celebrates more after a win, nobody probably takes it more personal after a loss than McKnight. McKnight has the perfect attitude for a football player, and it appears he applied that to the weight room.
We walked behind he and Maurice Stovall today to the practice the field. McKnight looks every bit of 6-2 if not 6-3 now considering the 6-5 frame of Stovall. He's listed at 207 on the official depth chart. We'd say that's about right, but it's a good 207 if that makes sense. We also know that he dropped his 40 time considerably over last year. Expect McKnight to become a major playmaker for the Irish in 2004. By the way, Stovall looks to carry his 220 pounds better than he did last year as well.
After interviewing Mike Goolsby yesterday, we felt obligated to see if ol' Mike is back to the Goolsby we've grown to love. We can gleefully report that Goolsby is out working as hard as ever, and looks very quick at 250 pounds. He looks as quick as any linebacker on the field.
Another guy who looks impressive is Brady Quinn. He was a big kid already and looks to be around 220 right now. To be honest, we haven't spent much time watching the quarterbacks because we know who is going to be leading this team on offense. We will watch more of Quinn in the near future.
Defensive backs playing with confidence
We watched the defensive backs early in practice. One could tell that Tom Zbikowski, Isaiah Gardner and Freddie Parish were all playing with much more confidence. All three looked to have a better understanding of where they needed to be. We've also noticed a difference in Quentin Burrell (limited action) and Dwight Ellick as far as confidence this year, Burrell especially.
Defensive line has a lot of talent
Justin Tuck sat out of most drills, but the Irish were hardly depleted of talent without his presence. We've already mentioned Abiamiri. Chris Frome appears to be completely healed and moving very well. He moves much better than we thought he would and he appears to be every bit of 265 if not more. Travis Leitko looks to be a very slim 270 pounds and could add another 10 pounds easily without losing a step. These two could really add some quality depth in the fall if they continue to progress. Derek Landri still appears to be only around 275 right now. He's still very quick, just appears a little undersized. Trevor Laws looks to be around the same weight—around 280 or so. Both Laws and Landri will have to add some weight over the summer to handle the pounding they'll take. Brian Beidatsch also appears to be in good shape but pulled up lame today with what appeared to be a quad injury.
We didn't get to see a lot of players and tried to focus on a few positions. Irish Eyes will take a look at some of the other positions for impressive players when the Irish return to practice on Thursday.