Diedrick Looking For Improvement

Many Irish fans are expecting a significant improvement in the production of Bill Diedrick's offense in 2004. Nobody wants to deliver on that expectation more than Diedrick. The usually amiable and smiling Diedrick reported to the media room on Thursday with a hoarse voice and not in the best of moods. One could tell Diedrick was not very happy with Thursday's practice.

"I've been pleased with most of the work and effort that we've been doing," Diedrick said of his unit's progress thus far. "It's like any other camp. There's so many good things that we've been doing, and then there's some things that are glaring and you know you need to work on. I've been very pleased with the progress we've made."

The Irish are still using a split squad to practice. Diedrick said he thinks the split squad practice has paid some dividends.

"I think it benefits you in a number of ways," Diedrick said of the change in format. "I think if you're able to stay healthy and don't start getting thin and really making everyone go every snap, it really allows each group to get more reps than they'd really take in a normal practice.

"You get a good look at your younger kids and see what they can do and how far they've progressed, and how they handle things because basically they are running the same script that the other kids are running.

"It gives you a chance to switch some guys around to work with various units. I think the biggest advantage in the number or reps each guy gets."

Diedrick will have plenty of weapons on offense with tight end likely being his deepest position. However, Diedrick told Irish Eyes this past spring that he wanted all of his tight ends to become complete players that could both catch the ball and also be effective blockers. We asked Diedrick if the competition had pushed his tight ends to become complete players.

"I think it's probably forced a guy like Jared Clark to improve his blocking skills and a guy like Billy Palmer to work on his receiving skills," Diedrick said of the competition at tight end. "It's probably forced Jerome Collins to become a total player. Both (Marcus) Freeman and (John) Carlson have to make the adjustments that they've made. There's so much competition there that each guy can do a number of things.

"It's not like ‘I'm the receiver of this group.' You can't hang your hat on that anymore. You've got to be a little bit more well-rounded."

Three talented running backs are also competing for the starting position at halfback for 2004. Incumbent Ryan Grant is being pushed by talented sophomore Travis Thomas and fullback-could be halfback, Rashon Powers-Neal. No one has separated from the pack at this point according to Diedrick.

"I don't think so," Diedrick said when asked if anyone would be considered the starter at this point. "You're seeing everything they can do. You're trying to put them in a number of different situations.

"I would be pleased with all of those kids. I like the competition. I want all three of them to push each other. When you've got a player chomping at your heels, you can't slow down and rest. They're hungry and that's what I really like."

Two talented freshmen could factor in the mix in Darius Walker and Justin Hoskins. Diedrick says neither player is challenging for playing time at this point, but could later in the year.

"Both Darius and Justin have done some very, very good things," he said. "It's probably still a little bit early just because they're kind of in day four of trying to learn the whole offense.

"You can tell that they're starting to think a little bit, and the wires are beginning to cross. I think they've both been very impressive. We're happy with them, but I don't think they're ready to springboard over any of the players ahead of them."

Another concern Diedrick pointed out to us at the conclusion of spring practice was the loss of Mark LeVoir during spring practice. The senior right tackle is moving back to tackle this season after spending the last few seasons learning the guard position. Diedrick says LeVoir is starting to catch up from the time he missed this past spring.

"He's definitely getting those reps back," Diedrick said of LeVoir. "Everything is completely healed. He's probably picking up where he left on when he was injured in the spring, and probably even a little bit ahead of that.

"He did a great job in the off-season in doing the things he needed to do to catch up with the times he lost and the reps that he lost. I'm not ever satisfied, but I'm pleased with what I'm seeing out there and the progress that we've made."

We also asked Diedrick if any younger offensive linemen have started to make a move up the depth chart.

"It's too early," he said. "Kids will do some good things, its still when you scrimmage. When it's live and full go, you get a better assessment of what kids are really going to do."

The quarterback play of Brady Quinn will also be vital to the success of the 2004 season. We got the feeling that Quinn didn't have the best day of fall camp on Thursday.

"He is so much farther along and we are so much farther along than definitely we were this time a year ago, and really at the beginning of spring," Diedrick said. "When you driving the wagon train, you're still beating the horses, you're still pushing them, you're loving them and you're kicking them. You've got to improve every day."

Irish Eyes then noted Diedrick's hoarse voice and asked if he did a little more kicking than loving on Thursday. "You got on me on that one," Diedrick said while letting out a chuckle.

Diedrick didn't seem thrilled with Thursday's practice, but every team will have bad days. The important thing is to limit the days where everything seems to go wrong. The Irish cannot afford too many bad days if they want to improve on their 5-7 record from 2003.

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