After four days of split squad practices, the Irish joined together as a team for their first two-a-day session of the fall season. The Irish players were certainly excited to start their first day of real hitting.
"It was a good, solid day of guys going after each other," said Irish coach Tyrone Willingham of Saturday's scrimmage. "You love the enthusiasm that you have, you love the energy of having pads on, but you don't ever want to negate execution just for energy. There were some good things, and quite naturally some not so good things."
Two noticeable players working with the first team defense are sophomore safeties Freddie Parish and Tom Zbikowski. Willingham says both players have been impressive so far this fall.
"I've been very pleased with how they've earned the right to get playing time," Willingham said of his young safeties. "It seems like they're adapting well to the system—to the defense. That doesn't mean that there aren't some mistakes and some things they need to improve on, but the initial impression is that they're doing a fine job."
Another player people keep raving about is junior wide receiver Rhema McKnight. McKnight has increased his speed over the off-season and Willingham says his offense will have to find a way to get McKnight the ball.
"I think he has to be," said Willingham when asked if McKnight would be a large part of the offense this year. "Rhema is a guy that if you can get the ball near him, he'll make some catches. I remember a couple of catches that he's had, unfortunately they happened out of bounds, but they were great catches. They were one-handed things that you only see special athletes be able to make those plays."
The Irish offensive line struggled most of the 2003 season finding their feet. This season they are are expected to be a strength of the team with the experienced they gained in 2003. Willingham said he can't say how much they've progressed so far this fall.
"It's still early," he said. "They're still making a lot of progress. This is the first time we're working (Mark LeVoir) in. (Bob) Morton is getting work at a couple of positions. I like some of the aggressiveness were seeing. Now we'll start to fine-tune that."
Willingham said the focus early in fall camp has been to get every player as many reps as he can and the main reason of the split squad practices.
"What's important to me right now is that I get every member of this team ready to play game one," Willingham said. "That's trying to get everybody opportunities, trying to get everybody repetition. I think with 5 1/2 days under our belt, we've been fairly successful in doing that.
"Now as we stop and slow down with the installation and start to more game prepare. Now you see guys that know what they're doing and now they start to separate more so than when everybody is trying to learn."
After a fine spring season and spring game, offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick hinted that we might see fullback Rashon Powers-Neal get some carries at tailback this fall. Willingham said he's going to wait and see what happens at the tailback position before making that move.
"We know that with what he demonstrated during the spring, he has some ability to do some things for us at the halfback position" Willingham said of Powers-Neal. "If we need him, we can make that adjustment. Right now, I'm going to wait and see what comes out of our younger guys to figure out what adjustments we have to make as coaches."
Carlyle Holiday has been enjoying himself at wide receiver and Willingham says he prefers to keep him catching passes instead of throwing them. But, Willingham hinted that Holiday's signal caller days might not be completely over.
"I think the best thing for us is to keep him at wide receiver," said Willingham of Holiday. "If we reach a point where we don't have enough progress and/or enough confidence in what's at our No. 2 position, then I think we may have to make an adjustment there. But that has not been determined, yet."
Not fully dressed on Saturday and sitting out of the scrimmage was safety Quentin Burrell, wide receiver Matt Shelton, offensive lineman Jamie Ryan and safety Anthony Vernaglia.
Saturday's practices was the first of five two-a-day practices. The others will be held on Monday Augusth 16th, Thursday August 19th, Saturday August 21st and Monday August 23rd.
The Irish will be back on the field on Sunday at 3:30 PM and Irish Eyes will be there bringing you the latest.
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