The first order of business is the health of starting inside linebacker Brandon Hoyte. Hoyte has been out of practice sporting and arm sling until just recently. It appears Hoyte should be back before the season begins.
"Based on reports, he should be back and ready to go before the first game," said Simmons on Hoyte's status.
If Hoyte isn't ready for the season, Simmons says he'll likely move senior Mike Goolsby into the WILL position and that would push senior Corey Mays into a starting postion at the MIKE linebacker position.
"I've got all kinds of combinations, but that's probably the most logical one," said Simmons. "We'd probably let Mays play MIKE. Mike Goolsby should be able to play all three positions and he can. That's the best way for us to go more than likely."
We've also been concerned with the health of Goolsby. It appears he has been limited in some of the action that we've seen. We asked Simmons about Goolsby's health.
"He's been in everything," Simmons said of the Joliet, Ill. native. "(The) only time he sat out was when he had a bout with pneumonia. Other than that, he's been at all the practices. He only sat out one day so he's competing and learning and trying to get better."
With a healthy Hoyte, Simmons will have a starting linebacker corps that will have 48 total starts among them.
"It's only good if the experience pays off," said Simmons when asked if he can relax a little this fall knowing he has so much experience among his starters. "I've had experienced teams before. It's important that the experience inside is a benefit for us in terms of getting people lined up, getting people executing and being leaders. That's when experience pays off. So far they're doing that."
Behind the four likely contributors in Goolsby, Curry, Mays and Hoyte, Simmons has a young group of talented linebackers that just need some experience.
Last season, the former Oklahoma State head coach told us that a freshman linebacker is usually a confused linebacker. Simmons says he's seen the bewilderment turn into production for some of his sophomore linebackers.
"Mitchell Thomas is like night and day from the spring until now," Thomas said "Joe Brockington, all those guys have conceptualized what we are doing. They're still making a few mistakes, but nothing like they were when they were freshmen and you expect that. They've both gotten bigger, they've gotten more confident and they're better football players."
We also spoke to defensive coordinator Kent Baer after the Blue-Gold game and he singled out Brockington as the sophomore who's made the most progress. Simmons agreed with Baer's assessment, but added:
"Joe continues to improve. Probably the guy who's shown up a little more this fall has been Mitchell Thomas, Simmons said. "But Joe still remains the guy who's a little more consistent than the rest of them. But Mitchell has made a giant step, and at times, Borseti is improving."
All three linebackers remain in the same positions they've been learning since reporting last August.
"Mitchell is at SAM, Borseti is at the MIKE, and Joe is playing both MIKE and WILL," Simmons said when asked where all three were lining up this fall.
Simmons also has two freshmen that reported to Notre Dame in August in Maurice Crum Jr. and Abdel Banda. The scuttlebutt has been that Crum has been very impressive so far in camp.
"You can tell he's been around football," Simmons said of Crum. "His father is a great influence on him. He comes from a good school. The coaches did a good job of getting him ready. He's just got to learn the system and understand. Instinctually, he runs to the football. He has shown he's got a bright future."
Banda has been slowed by an injury lately, but he's also impressed Simmons with how he moves.
"Abdel Banda has been out with injury, but he's shown he's got athleticism, he's just got to learn.
"We wanted to recruit guys that can run and both Abdel and Crum are track guys in high school. Now we've just got to get some meat on their bones and get them learning the system. Their time will come."
Sooner or later, Simmons will have to insert his young talent into a game to get them the experience they'll need when it becomes their turn to roam the field for the Irish. Simmons says winning comes first and foremost before he worries about getting his young linebackers some game reps.
"If the game is on the line, the bottom line is to win the game," said the Bowling Green graduate. "You hope there are opportunities to play everybody. You're hoping over the course of the season that there are times where you can get guys some reps in game situations. We did have some situations last year where we got some guys some reps. We're hoping to do that again—get them some plays to get some reps and then get them out."
Simmons says he thinks the Irish defense will have a solid season in 2004.
We've been working this fall camp and getting them lined up," Simmons said. "My group has to be the leaders in doing that. We have some young guys out there on defense, but they've been doing some very good things. We've just got to get them ready to play and we'll be alright."