Irish Battle Another Day of Rain

<P>Notre Dame's first and second string units took the field at 2:15 PM on Wednesday battling another unusually chilly and rainy afternoon. On the schedule today was many of the same drills we saw the previous day—another day of technique and teaching. </P>

After the usual stretching period, the Irish broke off into units working with their position coaches.

The defensive backs were working with defensive coordinator Kent Baer. Defensive backs coach Steve Wilks didn't appear to be present. Baer had his eight top defensive backs working on their backpedal and their breaks out of their backpedal.

Working with Baer today was Mike Richardson, Freddie Parish, Carlos Campbell, Chinedum Ndukwe, Dwight Ellick, Tommie Zbikowski, Preston Jackson and walk on Matt Mitchell. Quentin Burrell was working with the bike and stairmaster and not practicing.

The running backs took the first part of practice to work on running the ropes while protecting the football as managers hit their arms with pads as they ran through the ropes. The second session we saw had the backs hitting a blocking sled.

The backs working with the first and second string were Ryan Grant, Rashon Powers-Neal, Travis Thomas, Marcus Wilson and Josh Schmidt.

The tight end group was small with John Carlson, Jerome Collins and Anthony Fasano working in the first practice session.

The wide receivers consisted of Matt Shelton, Carlyle Holiday, Maurice Stovall, Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight.

The defensive line consisted of Greg Pauly, Justin Tuck, Chris Frome, Victor Abiamiri, Kyle Budinscak, Derek Landri and Trevor Laws.

The offensive line had a few surprises as well. Dan Stevenson was not present. Bob Morton, John Sullivan, Jeff Thompson, Mark LeVoir, Ryan Harris, Dan Santucci, Casey Dunn and Scott Raridon all worked with the first unit. Jamie Ryan sat out of practice again. Dan Santucci worked at left guard and Bob Morton worked at right guard with the first unit. Santucci also worked with tackles coach Mike Denbrock during drills so we're not sure where Santucci will end up this fall.

The linebacker group had the familiar faces—Mike Goolsby, Brandon Hoyte, Derek Curry, Corey Mays and Anthony Salvador.

As we said before, we didn't see much today as technique and teaching appeared to be on the agenda.

Irish coach Tyrone Willingham was in good spirits after a cold day in the rain. We asked Willingham what he planned to do with special teams and the players likely to be returning punts and kicks for Notre Dame in 2004.

"That's an area where we really have to improve," Willingham said. "Our focus on the punt return will probably be Rhema McKnight, who we think really wants to be our returner, along with Carlyle Holiday. Then well develop some younger guys to go along with that mix.

"Our kick return group, we could start with Dwight Ellick and Matt Shelton, but expand that to some other guys. Isaiah Gardner could be a guy who could fit very well in there and some others."

On major area of concern has been the punting situation for the Irish. Willingham said he hasn't found any answers to that problem as of yet.

"Not yet, because the final proof is going to be in the ballgame," Willingham said when asked if he was pleased with where his team was in the punting game. "What we've got to do is, right now, our teaching philosophy has been part/whole. We're working on the parts and we haven't put the whole together yet. When we start to put the whole in there, then we'll start to see exactly where we are and how it's measured against what we did last year."

Willingham said he isn't satisfied with any of his potential punters at this point.

"It's been consistency in all our guys," Willingham said of why he can't name a leader for the job at punter at this point. "I don't think there's one that we can say we are delighted with their consistency that they've displayed thus far. We're hoping they come on and give us that consistency and give us some spectacular yardage."

Free safety Quentin Burrell has been very limited so far this fall. Willingham said he's not sure when Burrell will be able to go full speed.

"That will be kind of day to day," Willingham said of Burrell's status. "He had an injury before we started in camp. We've tried to do the smart thing and bring him along at the right pace so he can help the football team."

Jamie Ryan has also sat out all practices this fall. His return is unclear at this point.

"I wouldn't label that one day to day," Willingham said of Ryan's status. "I would probably say that might be a week to week."

Stevenson not being at practice also was suprising.

"Dan was not there this afternoon," Willingham said of Stevenson's absence. "We just took him in for an examination. Other than that, he should be fine."

Freshman Anthony Vernaglia has also sat out the last few days. We asked Willingham when Vernaglia might return.

"Anthony, probably we are in more of a fact-finding mode more than anything else," Willingham said.

With some likely available scholarships outstanding, Willingham was asked if he has issued any scholarships to walk-ons yet. "As of this moment, not yet," Willingham said.

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