"I've been pleased with our progress," Diedrick said of his offense this fall camp. "I think the intensity has been very good. (We're) a little leg-weary. I think we're just starting to get them back. I think we've kind of backed off a little bit."
One area the Irish must improve to have a better season in 2004 is hanging onto the football. Far too often we saw Irish receivers dropping the football. Diedrick says they've focused on that this fall.
"Anytime we drop a ball, I still feel there's needed improvement," Diedrick said. "Through the duration of camp, you're going to have a number of drops, too many for me, but I think our concentration and focus has been a lot better at all position, and we put a real emphasis on ball security at the beginning of camp at all positions."
The maturation of the Irish players on offense should pay dividends this season according to Diedrick, and he's excited about what the experience could mean for the Irish this season.
"It probably begins with a group up front that is experienced," Diedrick said of his offensive line. "It's allowed us to do some things and to improve in some areas that were very vital. Having a relatively experienced receiver corps, I think that has helped tremendously.
"Having a good number of tight ends that have really been competing for reps (has helped). Probably the biggest thing is you've got a quarterback who's got a year under his belt and understands the system. I think that helps tremendously in your early overall production and execution.
"I think that's allowed him to step up and be more of a leader and that's something we probably lacked quite a bit last year," Diedrick said of Irish quarteback Brady Quinn. "There was really nobody that stepped up into a leadership role and that's unfortunate."
Behind Quinn at quarterback, the Irish don't have a lot of experience. Senior Pat Dillingham has some game experience, but he's a former walk-on. Many expected one of the freshmen quarterbacks, Darrin Bragg or David Wolke, to move to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Quinn. That hasn't happened according to Diedrick.
"Both have progressed in camp—probably not as far as I would like," Diedrick said of his two freshmen quarterbacks. "I think the combination of sore arms and mental overload kind of hit them in a number of spots.
" I think they've both worked through it. They're both still getting reps. I'm pleased with their progress. I wish they were probably further ahead, but I am pleased with what they've done."
It appears that Dillingham will be the backup behind Quinn for the foreseeable future. But, Diedrick says Dillingham has earned that spot with some fine play so far this fall."I issued a challenge to Pat at the end of the spring ball, that if he's going to continue to improve, (these) were the things that he needed to do," Diedrick said.
"I think Pat did a great job over the summer. He prepared himself both mentally and physically. He's throwing the ball much better than he has ever since he's been here. I think you look the decision-making he's done in fall camp and we're quite pleased with where he has come from spring ball."
The injury to incumbent starting tailback Ryan Grant has also been a setback for the Irish offense. Diedrick couldn't say if Grant would be healthy by the start of the season.
"Everything with Ryan is probably day to day," Diedrick said. "I think he's doing a lot more things that he's been doing. He's into it mentally. You never know."
Diedrick said they haven't been holding him out for precautionary reasons, he's just ready to practice or play.
"If he's ready, he's ready, Diedrick said of Grant. "September 4th is the start of the season. I'm always a big believer that you've got to practice to a degree if you're going to play well."
With the absence of Grant, sophomore Travis Thomas has picked up the ball and ran with it. Diedrick says Thomas has been very impressive so far in fall camp.
"I would say so," Diedrick said when asked if Thomas has shown he really wants to start. "I would say that he's kind of stepped up, performed very well and got after things. He's hungry. It's good to have a hungry back."
Diedrick said to us before fall camp began that he could see one of the freshmen tailbacks or maybe freshmen receiver Chris Vaughn seeing some action this season. We asked if he felt that Vaughn, or tailbacks Darius Walker or Justin Hoskins would see the field this season.
"You never know because you always have the possibility of injuries," Diedrick said. "I think that at both positions, the kids ahead of them have done a good job and had a good, solid camp. I think you put Darius and Chris behind them and it's kind of pushed them a bit."
Walker might be ahead of Hoskins on the depth chart at this point due to a slight injury Hoskins suffered early in fall camp according to Diedrick. Either one of them could see the field in 2004.
"I think he's ahead of him because of that reason and the things that we can possibly do with Justin if need be," Diedrick said of Walker. "It really depends on how quickly (Hoskins) can come (back) and which one of them really continues to grow throughout the season."
The Irish offensive line should be very solid up front. Depth is the only concern at this point. We asked Diedrick if he felt he'd go with the lineup of Ryan Harris, Dan Stevenson, John Sullivan, Bob Morton and Mark LeVoir on opening day.
"Pretty much in tact with Santucci playing pretty well," Diedrick said. "I think those guys are playing pretty well together. We're still trying to get a good rotation where you can get some guys who can roll in there and give them a spell now and again."
The only real concern is finding a suitable replacement at offensive tackle. Diedrick believes they have at this point in Jamie Ryan.
"With Jamie coming back, I think that is a tremendous benefit for us, because he's a guy who can swing both inside and outside," Diedrick said of the junior offensive lineman. "With him coming back, it's not as big a concern as if maybe he wasn't here. Especially with Brian (Mattes) (being there)."